September 22, 2009
(RNS) -- When a congregation moves from a traditional to a contemporary style of worship, the change can often lead to painful conflict in the pews but also, according to a new study, higher attendance.
Almost two-thirds -- 64 percent -- of congregations that switched to contemporary worship in the last five years saw an increase in worship attendance of 2 percent or more, the latest Faith Communities Today survey shows.
David A. Roozen, author of "Faith Communities Today 2008: A First Look," said the findings on contemporary worship held true regardless of the congregation's denominational affiliation (or lack of one).
"What it seems to suggest is that if you make the change, you're going to get an immediate impact, positive impact," said Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and professor of religion and society at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, in an interview.
"And if you ...just had been doing the contemporary for a while, you're still going to be more likely to be growing than more traditional (congregations)."
Roozen's findings, known as "FACT 2008," may be reflected in the results of a new list of the nation's fastest-growing churches. Outreach magazine, in conjunction with Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research, announced Tuesday (Sept. 15) that the fastest-growing congregation is New Life Church in Conway, Ark.
The church, which features a contemporary worship team and has grown 61 percent to 10,000 members in just one year, is where 2009 American Idol winner Kris Allen served as an assistant worship leader.
Abe Smith, New Life's associate worship pastor, believes the contemporary music at the church "affects how people see the church as relevant," and may make them feel more comfortable.
"If they feel like clapping, they can clap," said Smith. "If they feel like raising their arms, they can raise their arms."
(Rounding out the top five fastest-growing churches in LifeWay's survey were Calvary Temple Worship Center in Modesto, Calif.; Cornerstone Church in National City, Calif.; Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C.; and Faith Church of St. Louis in Fenton, Mo.)
Smith said the contemporary music is sometimes supplemented by modernized hymns as a way to reach people who may have been to church in the past and are now starting to return. The church also uses video screens and lighting to supplement its worship, and recruits church members as singers and instrumentalists for its worship team.
The FACT 2008 study found that more than half -- 53 percent -- of houses of worship that had already featured contemporary worship more than five years ago and have kept it saw at least 2 percent growth in worship attendance.
That's compared with just 44 percent of congregations that maintained their traditional worship over five years that were able to report a comparable growth in attendance figures.
Congregations that changed their traditional worship style without adopting contemporary music were the least likely -- 41 percent -- to see a 2 percent or more growth in worship attendance.
The Faith Communities Today survey is based on an analysis of 2,527 questionnaires from a random sample of congregations that were answered by clergy contacted by mail, phone or e-mail.
The Outreach Magazine/LifeWay Research Special Report is based on contacts with more than 8,000 churches that self-reported their information. Researchers confirmed the statistics by reaching the churches through phone, e-mail, fax and certified letter.
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. Used by permission. All rights reserved.