May 7, 2018 Tony Morgan

Differences Between Growing & Declining Churches: Ministry Connection

Q2 2018 Church Health Trends

In a previous article, I described what the data is telling us about the differences between growing and declining churches when it comes to ministry reach. Today, I’ll focus on ministry connections. Here I mean some of the next steps we’re tracking in churches that happen after the weekend worship experience. 

growing churches

I published this image in the Ministry Reach article. Remember, we’re only looking at data from the churches that have either grown or declined in attendance by more than five percent in the last year. Don’t forget—this has nothing to do with the size of the churches. Both sets of data include churches that are smaller than 100 in attendance and larger than 2,000.

Here are some of the key differences we found when it comes to ministry connections:

  • Growing churches are more likely to have some form of “membership” or “partnership” than declining churches.

    Though, generally, there seems to be a trend away from offering a membership opportunity in the churches we are serving, growing churches seem to offer it more often. This may speak to the value of buy-in that churches expect for new people connecting to the ministry.

  • Less than half of declining churches offer home groups and nearly two-thirds of growing churches offer groups in homes.

    The data gap is compelling on this one. There does seem to be a correlation between helping people connect in smaller environments to develop meaningful relationships that helps churches retain a growing number of people.  

Less than half of declining churches offer home groups and nearly two-thirds of growing churches offer groups in homes. Click To Tweet
  • Less than half of growing churches offer Sunday school classes and nearly two-thirds of declining churches offer Sunday school options.

    The gap in the data is actually even greater here. Only 37% of growing churches offer a Sunday school option. Personally, this is a little disheartening because my early steps in the faith were the result of a Sunday school class. However, when I think back on that time, the fact that the the gathering happened in a classroom on Sunday morning wasn’t the reason why the experience helped to transform my life. It was primarily because of the personal discipleship and mentoring that the Sunday school “teacher” invested in my life outside of the classroom. (Thank you Charlie!)

  • Participation in smaller gatherings, either home groups, Sunday school or other alternatives, is higher in growing churches.

    Growing churches are doing a better job of encouraging people to take a next step into community beyond the worship services…even though they are primarily inviting people to take that step at a time other than Sunday morning.

  • Volunteer engagement is higher in declining churches.

    Initially, this was the biggest surprise for me in all of these findings. Growing churches are still connecting 40% of their adults and students in regular serving opportunities, but the engagement in declining churches is even higher.

Let me dig a little deeper on that last bullet. Reflecting back on my engagements with both growing and declining churches, my experiences point to a couple of key reasons why volunteer engagement is higher in declining churches.

First, growing churches tend to reach more new people, and our data confirms they’re reaching more people who don’t yet have a relationship with Jesus. Like with giving, there’s usually a lag in the time it takes for people to cross the line of faith and then mature in their faith before they give their money and their time. Actually, we’re hearing from the churches we serve that the “volunteer lag” may be longer than the “giving lag” when new people connect to the church.

Secondly, declining churches tend to be mature churches with a lot more ministry programming. Though it’s not unusual to hear leaders in declining churches complain about not having enough volunteers for critical ministry areas, they typically still have high volunteer engagement. It’s just spread across many more ministry programs. The more ministry programs you offer, the more staff and volunteers are required.

As I mentioned previously, we’d love to hear your reaction. Participate in the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #UnstuckChurch.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.