Report Examines Changing Worship Practices in the United States
Congregations that have adopted innovative worship and contemporary worship styles are significantly more likely to have grown in the last five years, this 2012 report found.
Contemporary worship seems particularly important in attracting young adults.
In addition, worship is changing in another way as non-Christian groups such as Muslims and Baha’i increase their presence and congregations of all faith groups attempt to become more sensitive to the diversity of members’ schedules.
Worship is no longer an exclusively Sunday morning affair — people worship at many different times from Friday through Sunday evening
They also worship in many different languages; the survey on which the report is based identified 66 different languages.
These are among the findings in a Faith Communities Today report titled “FACTs on Worship,” based on data from the FACT 2010 survey. This analysis is meant to help congregations understand how worship practices can affect their vitality and inspire their members.
Author Marjorie H. Royle is former Director of Research for the United Church of Christ and former secretary of the Religious Research Association. She has written extensively about worship, congregational vitality and clergy leadership.
“All in all, quality worship experience is important for congregations that want to grow,” Royle wrote. “Because our culture is changing, congregations may need to change and innovate in their worship to create such an experience.”
“However, faith tradition is important. Drums and projection screens [forms of contemporary worship] do not fit in every tradition or with every age group. Innovation and change need to occur within a congregation’s faith tradition. Finding the balance between the two is one of the major challenges of worship in the 21st Century,” Royle wrote.
The report is one in a series produced by The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP), based on a 2010 survey that analyzed responses from 11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States.
Among the findings:
Non-denominational congregations and those from historically Black denominations have led the way in introducing contemporary worship styles and instruments and other innovations.
Sunday morning remains the most common time for worship, but congregations are adding evening services. Multiple opportunities for worship are more typical of groups with larger numbers of constituents, such as Roman Catholics and Muslims.
Change continues to occur slowly. When asked how much they had changed in the last five years, nearly half of all congregations said they had not changed at all.
When change occurs, it is not without its costs. Forty-two percent of congregational leaders reported conflict over how worship is conducted, over the last five years.
In general, non-denominational Protestants are the leaders in adopting contemporary worship. This group is newer than conservative or oldline Protestants, are somewhat larger and have a higher percentage of young adults.
Size affects worship in several ways. Larger congregations, with more resources, are more likely to use drums, electric guitars, and visual projection equipment.
In most faith groups, innovation in worship is more typical of the West and South.
Decreasing average attendance at worship is the biggest difference since 2000. The median size of the congregation decreased in every Christian denomination group.
Congregations with contemporary worship elements are more likely than others to be rated as vital.
Several characteristics of worship were positively related to growth in attendance between 2005 and 2010 – multiple worship services; worship described as joyful, innovative and inspirational; and the use of drums, electric guitars and projection equipment.
Faith Communities Today surveys and publications are products of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, a collaborative, multifaith coalition of American faith communities, churches, synagogues and mosques, affiliated with Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
FACT/CCSP offers research-based resources for congregational development that are useful across faith traditions, believing that all communities of faith encounter common issues and benefit from one another’s experiences. It also informs the public about the contributions of congregations to American society and about the changes affecting and emanating from one of America’s major sources of voluntary association – local churches and other congregations.