The FACT2005 study of 14,301 congregations can be read at http://fact.hartsem.edu/CongGrowth.pdf. This survey was the joint effort of Hartford Seminary's Institute for Religion Research and the Institute for Social Research at Calvin College. Perhaps more than any other of the studies reviewed thus far, it offers data pertinent to the question of whether the primary cause of mainline decline is the "liberalism" of mainline denominations. Among its findings:
1) Most congregations in newer suburbs are growing; most congregations in older parts of cities are declining (p. 2).
2) "[T]he South is better for growth [44% growth in the South, 31% growth outside of the South].... Not only is the South growing in population due to 'sunbelt migration,' but it is by all accounts the most religious region of the nation--a place where religious observance remains normative" (p. 2). As mentioned earlier in this series, Christendom lingers in the South. (76% of Southern Baptists reside in the South; only 37% of members of the Presbyterian Church [USA] live there. See: http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/table-region-by-denomination.pdf.)
3) Less than 36% of congregations organized before 1975 (most mainline Protestant churches) are growing; 55% of churches organized since 1975 are growing: "Congregations are living organisms. They are born, they flourish or stagnate, and some even die.... New organizations of all types tend to be more focused on establishing themselves as viable institutions" (p. 2). Non-denominational churches have been established in recent decades; mainline Protestant denominations have been a part of the American landscape for three centuries.
4) "Congregations in which more than 40% of their regular participants are over 60 are very unlikely to grow" (p. 3). 54% of members of the PC(USA) are 60+ (see: http://www.pcusa.org/research/panel/summaries/08fall-summary.pdf).
5) 41% of conservative mainline congregations are growing; 18% of moderate mainline congregations are growing; 29% of liberal mainline congregations are growing (p. 5). Majorities of mainline congregations of every theological orientation are declining. Neither conservatism nor liberalism is a guarantee of either growth or decline. "The fact that the most vital, growing mainline churches are most likely to be found among their most liberal and most conservative churches may partially explain the conflict between traditionalist and progressive elements in these denominations" (p. 6). Neither liberalism nor conservatism causes church decline; however, the presence of both in mainline denominations leads to conflict, which does contribute to decline (p. 8 & 16). Mainline decline is due in part to conflict caused by the mainline's theological and ideological diversity, a challenge not faced by the more homogeneous evangelical churches.
6) The use of drums in worship is a more likely indicator of a growing church than is either a conservative theological orientation or a liberal theological orientation--58% of churches that always use drums in worship are growing (p. 10).
In my next post I will look at a fifth (and final) study, The National Survey of Megachurch Attenders.
to be continued