Canadian researchers have statistically demonstrated the "secret" behind growth of churches - theology. Many other studies have linked church growth to members and pastor age groups, society and family conditions among many any suspect factors. But a five-year study carried out by Wilfrid Laurier University and Redeemer University College in Ontario found that churches following conservative Christian beliefs were more likely to grow than churches teaching liberal doctrines.
The researchers surveyed over 2,200 members of Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran and United churches in Ontario, and attended 22 churches. About 9 of them were the congregations which had witnessed 2% growth over the last decade, while the other 13 had declined by the same rate.
The pastors and the members were given a set of 40 questions on their beliefs and personal faith practice.
About 93 percent of the clergy and 83 percent of the congregations of growing churches agreed with the statement, "Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb," while 56 percent of the pastors and 67 percent of the members of declining churches agreed with the same statement.
As many as 71 percent of the growing-church pastors read the Bible daily, while only 19 percent of the declining-church pastors did the same. Some 46 percent of growing-church congregations read the Bible once a week as compared to 26 percent of members of the declining churches.
The statement, "God performs miracles in answer to prayer," was agreed by 100 percent of the pastors and 90 percent of the congregations of growing churches. Only 44 percent of the clergy and 79 percent of the members of declining churches responded in agreement to the statement.
None of the pastors of growing churches thought that "beliefs of the Christian faith need to change over time to stay relevant." But 46 percent of the members of growing churches had this frame of view. However, 69 percent of the clergy and the same proportion of congregants of the declining churches had this perspective.
The results of the study are to be published in Review of Religious Research this December.
"One of the greatest obstacles to this study was finding mainline Protestant churches that were growing," said David Haskell, lead researcher from Wilfrid Laurier University. "However, once we did, we were able to compare the religious beliefs and practices of the growing church attendees and clergy to those of the declining. For all measures, those from the growing mainline churches held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading."