National Catholic Reporter, January 19, 2007

Balanced race and gender help churches grow, study finds

Congregations interested in growing weekly attendance would do well to make a plan for recruiting new members, becoming multiracial and making sure serious conflict doesn't take root.

That's the message of a new analysis released last month by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary.

The "FACTs on Growth" report, based on data collected in a 2005 survey of nearly 900 church congregations, found that congregations reporting growth in worship attendance between 2000 and 2005 tended to exhibit certain common attributes.

What's more, congregations were likely to grow when men comprised the majority of active participants. Among congregations where at least three out of five regular participants were men, 59 percent of congregations reported growth. But among churches where no more than two in every five regular participants were men, only 21 percent said they had experienced growth.

"As American congregations become increasingly populated by women," the report says, "those congregations that are able to even out the proportions of males and females are those most likely to grow."

Multiracial congregations had a better chance of growing than those predominantly consisting of one racial group. Sixty-one percent of multiracial congregations said they had experienced growth, while just 31 percent of predominantly Anglo congregations said the same.

But even more important may be whether people in the pews, no matter their race, actually get along with one another.

"Whether or not a congregation finds itself in serious conflict is the No. 1 predictor of congregational decline," writes C. Kirk Hadaway, director of research for the Episcopal church and author of the report. "This finding points out the need for conflict resolution skills among clergy, so minor conflict does not become serious, debilitating conflict."

Conversely, congregations were most likely to grow if they: