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Survey shows believing the Bible the key to church growth

Church in Iceland Credit: washingtonnydc/Flickr/Creative Commons

Church in Iceland Credit: washingtonnydc/Flickr/Creative Commons

According to survey by researchers in Ontario, Canada, churches with Conservative, Bible-based theology are the fastest growing of Christian churches.

In fact, the membership numbers for churches that have rejected a literal interpretation of the Bible are in a free fall. According to the English newspaper, The Guardian, attendance at liberal mainline churches in Canada has dropped by 50% since the 1960s and in England Sunday attendance at the largely liberal Church of England has fallen by a similar percentage since the 1980s.

The research team led by David Haskell described those with a “conservative Protestant theology” as the “clear winner.”

In their report entitled “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Churches” the group surveyed 2,225 people attending churches in Ontario and conducted more in-depth interviews with 195 church attendees and 29 clergy.

According to The Guardian, while studies in the past concluded that theology had no impact on church growth, this survey showed it clearly did.

Haskell noted that growing churches “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading.”

The survey found in growing churches, 71% of clergy read their Bible daily compared to only 19% in churches that weren’t. For congregational members the results were similar with 46% of members attending growing churches daily reading their Bible compared to only 26% for those attending declining churches.

It is interesting to note how the percentages switched. In growing churches, more leaders than congregants read their Bible daily, while in declining churches more members did this than pastors.

Those attending growing churches also held more firmly to the belief that “Jesus rose from the dead with real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb” than those in churches that were declining.

In growing churches 83% of church congregations and 93% of clergy believed this compared to only 67% of members and 56% of clergy in shrinking churches.

Again notice the switch. In growing churches, leaders led the way believing this statement, while in declining churches more congregants believed it than pastors.

Just before His crucifixion, Jesus said:

32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. (John 12:32-33 NASV)

Jesus said His crucifixion and resurrection will be the force that draws people to Himself and God.

If church leaders don’t believe this, then they will not benefit from this drawing. Their churches will turn into social clubs without this core belief and if declining numbers are any indication, not very good ones.

I also noticed how Haskell and his team asked about a physical resurrection. Having come out of a liberal church, they will occasionally talk about Jesus’ resurrection, especially around Easter, but deny the Biblical message by considering it a spiritual resurrection, not a bodily one.

Pastors and members of growing churches also believed in miracles. In answer to the question: “God performs miracles in answer to prayer,” 100% of pastors and 90% of members of growing churches believed this compared to only 44% of clergy and 80% of church members in declining churches.

Again notice the familiar switch: Church leaders led the way in growing churches while more congregants believed this than pastors in declining churches.

It shows that leadership makes a difference.

The survey also revealed this stark contrast. In churches that believed the Bible, 66% of their congregation were under the age of 60. The number was almost exactly the opposite in declining churches where two-thirds of their members were over 60.

Haskell concluded:

“If you are a mainline church and that church is dying, and you’ve just heard that the theological position that you have is likely what’s killing it, you’re not going to be very happy about that. Theological orientation cuts to the very core of the religious practitioner.”

A recent incident in Canada reveals that some mainline Liberal churches are beginning to recognize this problem. The United Church of Canada is in the process of defrocking a denominational pastor who came out as an atheist. Apparently even Liberal churches have a line in the sand, but despite the denomination’s stand several leaders in the church have opposed the church’s move to remove the woman who pastors a church in Ontario.


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