Recently I found myself in a conversation with some lay leaders about crucial issues involving church health and vitality. These lay leaders asked me, “What makes a church grow?” I offered a couple of points in reply. Almost immediately with no supporting data other than opinion they started to debate my answer. I pointed out that my answer wasn’t a matter of opinion it was based on the deep data mining on congregational vitality done by Towers Watson in their report. (Click above link to read the extensive Towers Watson Report, which formed the back ground for the Call to Action Report.)
Arguing with the results of the deep data mining is a bit like debating that 2+2 = 4 in base 10 math or disputing that human beings need oxygen to breathe. We can debate the issue, but the debate doesn’t change the data or the facts of the case. The words of Neil Alexander, President and Publisher of the United Methodist Publishing House, keep coming back to me. He said something like we don’t need more opinion about what causes vital congregations, we need data driven facts.
In the fall of 2011, I visited every District and made separate presentations to both the clergy and laity of all the Districts sharing key data points. By way of critical reminder, deep data mining’s sixteen (16) drivers of congregational vitality are:
Driver 1: Vital churches have more small groups for all ages appropriate to each congregation.
Driver 2: Vital churches have more programs for children (under 12 years old).
Driver 3: Vital churches have more programs for youth (age 12-18).
Driver 4: Vital churches focus on increasing the effectiveness of lay leaders by equipping them to understand their role and carry out their roles effectively.
Driver 5: Vital churches have lay leaders who demonstrate a vital personal faith (regular worship, intentional spiritual growth, personal devotional life, and giving of financial resources.)
Driver 6: Vital churches place an emphasis on rotating lay leadership in order to involve more people over time.
Driver 7: Vital churches call, equip, use, and support more lay leaders than non-vital churches. (20 percent or more of their worship attendees describe themselves as current or past leaders in their church.)
Driver 8: Vital pastors give attention to developing, coaching, and mentoring lay leadership to enable laity to increase their ability to carry out ministry.
Driver 9: Vital pastors use their influence to increase the participation of others in order to accomplish changes in the church.
Driver 10: Vital pastors motivate the congregation to set and achieve significant goals through effective leadership.
Driver 11: Vital pastors inspire the congregation through preaching.
Driver 12: Vital pastors, when they are serving effectively, stay for a longer period of time. (Short-term appointments of effective pastors decrease the vitality of a congregation.)
Driver 13: Vital churches offer a mix of contemporary (newer forms of worship style) and traditional services.
Driver 14: Vital churches have preachers who tend to use more topical sermon series in traditional services.
Driver 15: Vital churches use more contemporary music (less blended music that includes traditional tunes) in contemporary services.
Driver 16: Vital churches use more multi-media in contemporary services (some congregations in other parts of the world may have limited access or do not use multi-media to the same extent and therefore it may not be as important as it is in some cultures.)
Application of such data (beyond pontificating or idle curiosity) involves investigating how my church or community of faith is doing in each category. There is a wealth of important contextual nuancing that calls for deeper investigation.
Practical next steps involve picking a couple of categories to improve. Don’t try to do everything at once. Take a couple of concrete steps. The Healthy Church Initiative/Small Church Initiative (HCI/SCI) provides clear and helpful information about application. (Contact the Central Texas Conference Center for Evangelism and Church Growth for more information about HCI/SCI.)