Church and Synagogue Affiliation: Theory, Research, and Practice

By Amy L. Sales; Gary A. Tobin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Definitions of Congregational Growth
Rev. Loren B. MeadChurch statisticians and clergy are aware of the historical trends in church membership--increases in the 1930s and 1940s, a high peak in the late 1950s and 1960s, and then a drop-off. Although the general pattern may vary somewhat by denomination, the essential fact of religious life in the 1990s remains clear: most mainline churches are not growing numerically.I personally have come to look on "number of members" as an important but problematic statistic. It does tell something, and our religious institutions get into trouble if they fail to attend to it; but its simplicity hides a great deal. I want to enlarge the context in which we think about the growth of congregations by laying out a framework which encompasses several varieties of growth, instead of a unique focus on numbers.The framework was first suggested by Ted Buckle, former archdeacon and now assistant bishop of the Anglican Church of New Zealand ( Buckle, 1978). In his attempts to start up new churches, Buckle struggled to understand why some of his congregations grew in numbers and others did not. He came to the realization that numerical growth is not the only possibility for congregations. There are, he proposed, four different kinds of church growth. This chapter describes each of these in detail:
Numerical growth . This is growth in the ways we ordinarily describe it: growth in numbers of active members, attendance at worship services, size of budget, numbers of activities, and so on.
Maturational growth . This is growth in stature and maturity of members, in their ability to grow in their faith and deepen their spiritual roots.
Organic growth . This is growth of the congregation as a functioning community, as an organism that is able to work, decide, move, and take action.

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