Last week, LifeWay Research made public the results of their most recent phone survey. The study set out to measure the overall health of the church by interviewing 1,000 randomly selected Protestant pastors.
The study caused quite a stir across both Christian and secular media outlets, and with excerpts like the following, it’s easy to understand why:
“The research gives a clear picture of the state of Protestant churches in America today. Most have fewer than 100 people attending services each Sunday (57 percent), including 21 percent who average fewer than 50.”
Many inside and outside of the church have been quick to call the evidence of diminishing service attendance a crisis, which is understandable. After all, the data shows that 28% of Protestant pastors say that their church attendance has shrunk by 6% or more.
We on the Faith Strong Today team aren’t ringing the emergency alarm quite yet. Why? Well sure, a lot of the data presented in the survey can be taken as negative. But, if you take a closer look, the study also highlights a number of things that the Protestant church is getting right. It also provides us with a few invaluable clues as to the key to building a successful ministry. Take this excerpt for example:
More than half of 18- to 44-year old pastors (55 percent) say their church is growing, while 33 percent of pastors 45 and older say the same.
Though this “blink and you miss it” data point is easy to overlook, it shines a spotlight on the prevalence (and success) of the current youth movement in the Protestant church. It also highlights a clear opportunity for growth.
Resident Faith Strong Today theologian Don Millar sees the data as no more than a signifier of the evolution of the church:
Weekly attendance is no longer the metric as to what constitutes a healthy church. Participation can now be measured by the increased use of digital methods to teach and edify; online sermons, forums; resources etc. You can even give online. Certainly, a regular gathering is scripturally mandated but the best work of the church is now done outside the sanctuary.
Faith Strong Today exemplifies the type of resource that is increasingly used by Christians as they seek spiritual growth and a way to plug– Don Millar, Director of Operations at Faith Strong Today
in tothe various manifestations and practices of our faith.
The data gathered by LifeWay Research illustrate change, that much is clear. What is unclear though, is whether this change is a negative one. We’re blessed to live in an age with unlimited and convenient access to worship, prayer, and the Christian community. How we adapt and use it to our advantage is entirely up to us.
For the full study from the LifeWay Resources, click here.