Facts on Growth: 2010

Why do U.S. congregations grow?  “Facts on Growth: 2010” is a  study by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership and it has some interesting findings:

• Churches in the southern part of the U.S. are more likely to grow – not only because of immigration, but because the population is more religious.

• Young congregations – those founded since 1992 – are more likely to grow.

• Young congregations – those with many younger members – are more likely to grow. (BTW, people 34 and younger are 48% of the US population but only 33% of US congregations. People 50 and older are 31% of the US population but 43% of congregations.)

• Growth is less likely in white, European-American congregations, more likely if the congregation is majority Latino, Asian, or Black.

• Congregations that use a language other than English in worship are more likely to grow than English-only worshippers. (I’m not sure Latin counts here.)

• Growth is much more likely among conservative Protestant denominations/groups and least likely among mainline Protestant denominations/groups, with Catholics in between (and benefitting from immigration).

• Surprisingly, both very conservative and very liberal congregations have higher growth rates. Moderate liberals are growing the least. Perhaps growth at the end points correlates with the finding that congregations with a clear sense of mission and identity are more likely to grow.

• More conflict within a congregation makes it less likely to grow, and vice versa.

Pray Tell readers will be interested in the data on worship:

• Worship described by participants as “joyful,” “innovative,” and “inspirational” is tied to congregational growth, as are “thought provoking” and “filled with a sense of God’s presence,” but less so. A sense of being “reverent” was not related to growth at all.

• Use of electric guitars and bass is strongly tied to growth.

• Use of drums and percussion, and visual projection, are associated with growth.

• Congregations involving children in worship are more likely to grow.

• Congregations that have “changed a lot” in their worship format in the last 5 years are more likely to grow.

• Having prayer and meditation groups is tied to increased attendance at worship.

See the Catholic News Service report here.



  1. While I suspect the data is correct and we all know the phenomenal growth on non-denominational churches that have what is described in this post as well as Catholic parishes that provide a similar type of Mass (such as Lifeteen and the like) in terms of being more contemporary and this pulling in the young; my question would be how this impacts Catholic spirituality and Catholic identity for the long haul? Are there any studies on that?
    In addition are there any studies on the Orthodox Churches in America which I believe have held steadfast to their traditional ways of worship and music and have not participated in the fads of church music and ways of worshiping as have Catholics and Protestants have over the last 45 years? That would be an interesting comparison too that Jack Rakosky may have some data.

      1. My understanding of a fad is something that is timed constrainned and then passes from the scene. I don’t think that is the case with organ music, but it could be the case with some other types of instrumentation or at least genre or styles of music and/or workshop.

      2. My point is that, when it was introduced into the Church, who knew if the pipe organ was going to last or not. Perhaps there were many dissenters who thought only chant was appropriate for the Mass. At what point of time or use does something, like guitar music (only one example), cease being a fad? Does it have to last 50, 75, or 100 years? Do 5%, or 25%, or 90% of the parishes have to continue its use? Would it be a fad forever if some considered it not reverent?

      3. I suspect we can say diversity of instrumentation
        is here to stay, but what will pass is what is considered
        contemporary as something new replaces it or something old returns. The test of time is to be considered in this.

      4. Till the 18th century and even into the 19th in Great Britain at least brass bands or ‘stringed instruments’ or some combination were common in Churches. In Bavaria and Austria even today the local brass choir often leads the music especially on ‘festal days’.
        And was not “Silent Night” written originally for accompaniment by a guitar?

      5. We use organ, brass, strings and tympani for major
        Solemnities and also for Confirmation–splendid if
        I do say so my self.
        Silent Night has survived the test of time; “Day
        by Day” and other Godspell favorites
        from the 60’s and 70’s haven’t survived
        the test of time for
        the Mass nor some of the first Folk Mass settings
        and songs, but the guitar persists.

    1. I suspect that any comparison to the Orthodox Churches is complicated by the fact that they are also a means of maintaining community identity. That gives them a certain support (many ethnic Catholic parishes survive because parishioners remain loyal even as they move to the suburbs) but it also means they must confront the strains of assimilation as grand children marry outside the community.

      1. The Greek Orthodox often use organs in their services, at least in North America. The Russian/Slav Orthodox generally are ‘a cappella’.

  2. It seems that the groups who take their faith seriously and are actively involved are both the liberal end and the conservative end. They take what they believe seriously. Those in the middle don’t…what’s the scripture verse about the Lord vomiting out the lukewarm believers?

    1. Now, now, the lukewarm/vomit remark was the product of the Johannine community’s judgmental over-reaction to the difference between their own standard of Christian living with the standards of other Christian communities. 😉 Or something like that.

      But seriously, it gives pause.

      1. Jeff, I wasn’t trying to be serious, however look at the commenters here, none are lukewarm, that’s for sure!
        Incidentally, the vomit comment would square nicely with pro multis rather than pro omnibus 🙂

  3. If I looked only at the half-dozen bullet items listed under “data on worship”, I might conclude that we need less growth and more worship. But then I live in an area where we have both. And, thankfully, perhaps our best growth is in vocations.

  4. What is meant by the term “reverent”? That’s a serious question. If it implies respect, does that mean people who prefer a joyful worship experience have no respect? If it implies solemnity and/or high culture, what does that say about a certain Rabbi who hung around with lowlifes and partied at their homes?

      1. “almost always” … the “almost” looms large here.
        Jesus was an observant Jew, for sure. But the most striking thing about the Gospels is the way in which Jesus did NOT follow accepted conventions and scandalized people. I get very nervous when I see anyone trying to downplay this – not sure if you mean to do that or not. How greatly did Jesus scandalize people? Enough to get crucified, so it couldn’t have been too insignificant.

      2. But Father, isn’t a further qualification in order for your qualification? The times when Christ broke conventions were when customs were “tired” or not inspired by a true spirit. Also, he didn’t set aside to law in a careless way, but always to prove a point. In my mind (and I am sure many posters here will disagree), this was what Benedict XVI was doing at the Regensburg talk with the “Byzantine quote”: he was pointing out an inconsistency or shibboleth (not calling Islam on its sometimes-lack-of-respect for other religions) that no one else was willing to touch.

      3. Jesus was BOTH an observant, obedient Jew AND did not follow socially accepted conventions that went against His Father’s will. I get very nervous when I see anyone trying to downplay either side of ths equation.
        It was His doing both that scandalized those who did not do both.
        How greatly did His perfect obedience to His Father’s Law and Will prick the hearts and conscience of people? Enough to be crucified by those people.

  5. “Congregations that have “changed a lot” in their worship format in the last 5 years are more likely to grow.”

    I wonder if the introduction of the new English translation falls into the category of “changed a lot”? If so, better roll out the welcome mats!

  6. Nope – that is tied to the comment about “reverence” which is way down the list and not part of “growing” congregations.

    Do think that some characterized the new translation as “more reverent”.

    1. Your logic is poor, Mr Edwards. The fact that statement x is true does not mean that the opposite to statement x is false.

  7. Anecdote: I have been directing the music program of a large suburban parish for six months now. Previously, they had music of different genres at the weekend Masses: contemporary (piano, guitars, drums) on Saturday, traditional (organ & choir) on Sunday. Both Worship and Breaking Bread in the pews. I don’t have a strong preference for one style or the other–I have done a wide variety and am comfortable leading many styles.

    I’ve been carefully listening to parishioners. I estimate that 80-90% of the comments I hear are in favor of “contemporary” music and/or against “traditional” music. With one exception, commenters under the age of 50 have been unanimously supportive of contemporary music. Among commenters over the age of 50, the majority of them also favor contemporary music.

    Given that I am serving a congregation of people (as opposed to serving a theoretical ideal), how should I proceed? Comments?

    1. P.S. Please don’t argue with defining the terms “contemporary” and “traditional.” I think we all know what these words mean in common usage. E.g. a hymn played on the pipe organ sung by an SATB choir is traditional; a song written by Dan Schutte played on the piano & guitar is contemporary.

      1. Where do Dan Schutte hymns sung by SATB and accompanied by electric piano fall? 🙂

        For whatever reason, the people at my parish prefer to listen to the singing rather than to join in. Whether that’s a function of the music or the culture of suburbia or some combination, I couldn’t say. I have noticed that the older choir books all have handwritten notes indicating that a previous choir director changed words and/or music on a regular basis. That is something that discourages congregational singing, and I wonder if that’s why so dfew sing today.

      2. Scott, I hate to comment to someone I could call on my phone, but perhaps I have something to add, more or less in agreement with Karl. I think the “trad” vs. “contemp” debate is very tired. Neither (hymns or more contemporary songs) are idiomatic in the Mass (pax Germans and Austrians at High Mass, and awr). The truly Catholic music is chant, or unaccompanied monophonic song of some sort…or at least this is what our Protestant friends expect from us, according to my experience. If I could do whatever I wanted, I would do 80% of my liturgical music that way, and arrange it in various fashions, with a few Masses targeted toward contemporary or traditional on the basis of a strophic piece at the end of Mass or another place (entrance before an antiphon.) Of course the 600 lb. gorilla is whether or not your boss trusts you to take the program on your shoulders…and then support you!

      1. Medium acoustic, nice room for choral & organ without long echoes; choirs & pipe organ in choir loft

      2. So, how often do you do music that doesn’t need any accompaniment, and, if so, how often to you just have pure song? (This applies to both the contemporary and traditional idioms. The reason I ask this is because it’s a perspective that often cuts through the tired old polarities that often end up being mired in unresolved subjectivism.)

        (I wouldn’t have asked this question if the acoustic itself conspires against pure song.)

      3. I’d like to try some unaccompanied singing, perhaps starting in Lent. I should mention that the room feels very large–late 1950s design, basically a square room with 40 or 50′ ceilings. I think people feel exposed in the room, sound goes up into all that air and doesn’t come back. My last church had sloped ceilings which provided early reflections of the sound, felt more intimate.

      4. That’s probably why they prefer contemporary music – the comparatively busier accompaniments tend to disguise that factor.

        Which is just a way of illustrating that preferences are not necessary what they may seem at first blush: they can be a function of disguised factors.

    2. ‘I’ve been carefully listening to parishoners”

      How refreshing. I want to join your parish. Sounds to me like you are doing a great job.

    3. The Mass is the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary; that event is truly made present.
      If the music should reflect that.
      In my experience, I’ve heard very little “contemporary” music that meets that criterion.

  8. “Day
    by Day” and other Godspell favorites
    from the 60′s and 70′s haven’t survived
    the test of time for
    the Mass nor some of the first Folk Mass settings
    and songs, but the guitar persists.

    I can recall some really bad songs, but as you note, they’ve been left behind. Yet the animus against the guitar persists in some circles. Oft times current musicians are accused of the sins of their elders 40 years ago. I suspect that the use of the guitar has become conflated with opposition to the Vietnam war and rights for women. Thus, dislike for guitars sometimes is a marker for dislike for all the changes since 1959.

    1. Because of my parish assignments since 1985, I haven’t
      really experienced a great deal of today’s “contemporary”
      music; I only have recollections from being a lay person
      in the 1960’s and 70’s and my first assignment for five
      years from 80 to 85 where we had a very excellent
      folk group (although toward 84 or so, we decided that
      folk group and songs as terms were outdated, so the choir’s
      name was changed to the “celebration choir” to distinguish
      it from the traditional choir which back then we renamed
      the “chancel choir” although we had no real chancel. But
      that’s another story.
      But our folk Mass which was the most heavily attended
      and with a young crowd were not as participative as was the
      “traditional” Mass with organ and SATB choir–the congregation
      listened and watched the folk group that sang up
      front confrontationally to the assembly while the SATB
      choir sang from the loft. The traditional Mass which had
      young people too, just not as many, was far more
      robust in the congregational singing.
      But I cannot judge that by today’s standards since I
      have no real experience with contemporary music–all
      our Masses use the same music to unify us and all
      our Masses have very strong congregational singing but
      that may be due to the fact that more than half my parish
      are “converts” from Protestantism. So others should chime
      in in terms of the assembly’s participation concerning contemporary
      and traditional in the same parish.

    2. Our church has used the WORSHIP hymnal for about the past nine years. Prior to that, we used the GATHER hymnal. Other than an occasional violin, all of the music is performed on an organ or keyboard. I perfer a mix of hymns such as in the GATHER.

      1. I prefer a mix of hymns such as in the GATHER.

        Perhaps, but how relevant is that? The real measure is whether the assembled congregation (how’s that for mixing the new and old terminology?) responds to the music. Do they sing the Worship music better than they did the Gather music? That’s the key question, not whether the people “like” one type of music or another.

      2. I think more people sang the songs from GATHER because more of the songs were more familiar and better liked.

      3. RPB, I think this statement should be qualified: they should “respond”, but should also be catechized as to what the church expects in the liturgical documents. Otherwise, balkanization occurs.

    3. I haven’t been to a just guitar mass in decades. But the use of guitar with piano, even organ, along with flute and moderator percussion can be very uplifting. It doesn’t have to be organ or guitar or contemporary vs traditional.

  9. EF advocates often trumpet the youthfulness of this movement. I haven’t done a thorough longitudinal survey of scores of EF parishes, so all I say here is anecdotal. There are finer sub-trends in the EF movement.

    In my view there are two different groups of younger adults who attend the EF regularly. The first might be called the “young academic traditionalists”. These adherents often hold graduate degrees or are junior faculty. Not a few read Latin and Greek. These adherents are often interested in liturgical studies, read and discuss NLM and other traditional blogs, perhaps sing in a schola or choir, and often have a good grasp of patristics and scholastics. While most of this first group are devout and magisterially obedient, “academics” are also engaged with secular society. The academic traditionalists engage the liturgy through the mind and not necessarily dress or behavior. I sense that this first group is willing to ponder the intersection of gender equality and Church teachings rather than retreat into an idealized faux-antiquated view of human relationships.

    The obverse, or “young cultural traditionalists”, engage the liturgy through a dress code, devotional manner, or more traditional (some might say ‘retrograde’) views on husband/wife roles or the family. Often, “cultural” young EF Catholics tend to wed earlier and have larger families. I suspect that their participation in the liturgy is not necessarily focused on word and gesture but inclusion in a community which supports or even encourages a certain socio-religious worldview. In this case, the EF liturgy is more a backdrop for a particular way of life rather than an contemplative vehicle.

    Do all young EF adherents fit into one of these two groups? Certainly not. Is there overlap? Certainly. Is EF “youthfulness” monolithic? Not in the least, and more must be said.

    1. Jordan, thank you. This is best exposition of the phenomenon I’ve seen anywhere…really. As someone who knows people in both groups (or not quite in either, but with the same characteristics), I would say that the second group could use a bit of tweaking. Many of that group find expression ONLY in the EF, but in the low Mass. I grew up anabaptist, and they strike me as very close to conservative anabaptists in that they desire a more insular life, or at least by our modern standards. Anyhow, I know this is a rabbit hole in this thread, but I thought it was particularly well-said.

      1. Bruce Ludwick, Jr. on February 9, 2012 – 10:27 am

        After reflection, I’ve realized that what I have portrayed earlier is nothing more than stereotypes and perhaps even caricatures. This I regret.

        Even so, the spectrum of attitudes, behaviors, liturgical participation, and pieties in postconciliar Tridentine Catholicism displays some fault lines. You are quite right that there are some in the EF movement which are attempting to recapture an idealized social worldview disconnected to a degree from postmodern human relationships.

        Fortunately, my parish displays a wide degree of dress, from a “Lefebrvist” -strict dress code to business casual for men and women. Thankfully, the priests of my parish always respect a woman’s free choice to veil or not veil. For the EF movement to integrate solidly into the postconciliar church, women’s autonomy in religious practice must be respected. Some of the most devout women I know, including my mother, never veil. At no time should the veil designate a woman as “more pious” or more dedicated to Tridentine worship. True worship is of the heart. All, men and women, have died in Christ. There should be full transparency and no double standards.

        Fortunately, many EF parishes are inclusive in dress and piety. There are some which aren’t. I pray that a greater inclusiveness sweeps through and renovates the EF movement.

  10. There have been several passing references to the location of the choir. For years I attended a parish that had an electric organ and a choir that sat in the pews on the left hand side. We were visible to the congregation, but not on the altar. More importantly, we were part of the congregation.

    My parish was closed and the new parish church was pseudo Gothic complete with pipe organ and choir loft. Several choir members left either because they were infirm and didn’t like to use the elevette, another because she couldn’t overcome her vertigo. I felt as if the altar was a mile away, and didn’t like having Communion brought up to the choir loft. The day a television screen was added so we could see Mass on a closed circuit TV was my last day there.

    1. Pros and cons both ways. When my last parish moved the choir from the loft to the sanctuary, several people quit because they didn’t want to be “on display.” Others like being closer to the altar but complain because in that placement no one can hear the choir. That’s what happens when you let a liturgist make a musical decision (I’m both, so I can complain!)

      For me, it’s a higher priority for the choir to be heard than to be seen. Work with the design & acoustics of your church building–you can’t fight physics.

      1. That was one of the things that worked so well at my former parish. The building was a large square, with the sanctuary set in one corner and the pews arranged in a facing arc. The choir was off to one side rather than on display, but we were also angled toward the rest of the congregation so the sound went out across the people rather than coming from in front or behind.

        I now attend a parish with a raised altar with the seating arranged on three sides. The choir is at floor level behind the altar. (Which in effect means I’m always facing the back of the priest.) It’s not the best arrangement in my mind because the choir is separated. We’re looking at some rearrangements to place a ramp leading to altar, so the choir will be moving.

        All in all, it shows that church architecture is a significant factor in liturgy.

      2. Maybe it depends on whether you view the choir as a part of the congregation that just happens to sing better than everyone else and has been given special things to sing that their peers are excluded from joining in, or as exercising an authentic liturgical ministry. I have always found it a bit insulting when the choir tries to be too “ordinary Joe,” and I’ve even seen them singing from the pews.

        In my opinion, if you’re in the choir you should see yourself as holding a ministry in the mass. If that’s too distracting, just like if an altar boy or girl thought “I can’t really pay attention to this mass because I’m too focused on scurrying around and holding stuff,” then probably a person should go to a separate mass for herself, or not be in the choir. Obviously issues like accessibility for people with disabilities should be fixed pronto, though.

    2. Last Sunday we tried out the choir loft. I like it! For two reasons: one, we are directly facing the altar and since the church is not that big, we have a perfect view of everything that takes place during the liturgy. Two, the sound reverberates and we cannot hear very well what the priest says. Given my dislike of the new missal, that’s a plus.

      1. I’ve often found that choir lofts are better for communication between participants. Hand symbols, shrugs of confusion, ruffling of sheet music, and FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) aren’t visible to the congregation when the choir is behind the pews.

  11. I really appreciate all the comments on music whether traditional or contemporary. Growing up in the 1970’s I remember quite well the folk group at my home parish. They were really good, and of course a little experimental in choosing music. The masses with organ were good too, and so was our parish choir. As a full time music minister today in a large suburban parish I welcome all into the music ministry. We have two childrens choirs, a bell choir, and an adult SATB choir. We have a pipe organ and baby grand piano in the church. We have the green Gather Hymnal which has served us well. I do however publish an order of worship so that we can sing hymns/songs that are not in the hymnal. I find that most of the high school kids who sing with my traditional adult choir (keep in mind most of them are public high school) love singing more classical oriented choral music. Although I mix up the music (all masses have the same hymns etc) in terms of traditional vs contemporary, I find it hard to attract other instrumentalists to play. I think maybe because and Im not certain, that our mass schedule may be to blaim as in most Catholic Church’s. We have six English speaking weekend masses, thats quite a few masses to stretch and or find people who are willing to play at each. I guess what I’m trying to say is that one thing no one mentioned is that most of these “growing” “young” churchs are probably using a building that was built to accomidate a large congregation. These new mega churchs even with multiple services are probably no more than 2 or 3 on a weekend and more or less have a full time paid music ministry whatever that may consist of with paid musicians. The music is done well, it may be on the more contemporary side, but the key is, it is paid for and done well. Anyone agree with this? This has been my understanding about some of these successful congregations.

  12. Re: Orthodox attendance, I’m told by my Orthodox priest friends that it is even lower than our own. The public estimates of OCA attendance at the liturgy are WILDLY diverge. It is estimated that there are 1 million OCA members in the US and I’ve been told that as few as 40,000 attend the liturgy on a given Sunday. The identity and the practice are even farther apart and I have also been told that the majority of Orthodox converts leave within a few years. I don’t know about the Greek Orthodox.

    Re: in my research and travels, I would say that about 75% of young adult Catholics who attend Mass weekly are in the conservative/traditionalist camp (although that doesn’t mean 75% are EF-only trads). But since only 10 – 15% of millennial Catholics are at Mass on a weekly basis, we are still talking about a single digit number of that generation of Catholics. Most of Gen X and Millennials just don’t show at all but the majority of those who do show are inclined toward the traditional.

  13. I am confused as to the point of all this. I’m sure we’d get great attendance if we just dressed up women in Hooters outfits. But what is the point of “growing” if you’re not growing into the right thing–namely a devout Catholic?

      1. Alternatively, what are we doing or not doing that is driving out so many cradle Catholics of all ages?

    1. It all hinges on your definition of “devout Catholic.” Does that necessarily include embracing liturgical music of a high-classical or ritual paradigm? I’ve known several teens active in the LifeTeen movement who are on fire with love of God and his Church, and strive to live their lives accordingly. Are they missing something? Would they be better Christians if they were singing unaccompanied chant instead of music with electric guitars and drums (provided that the lyrics are theologically sound, which is generally true)? Is a psalm set by Gelineau more “devout” than the same psalm set by Tom Booth?

      I am no opponent of traditional forms of worship–if I were choosing where to worship, I choose high ritualism–monastery, cathedral, etc. But I have come to realize that those forms of worship do not enable everyone to pray, and there is great diversity among “devout Catholics.”

      1. “It all hinges on your definition of “devout Catholic.” ”
        Would it not also depend on the particular Catholic’s understanding of what the Mass is?

      2. “The Mass is the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary; that event is truly made present.” Indeed, that is certainly one of its most solemn realities, as carefully and lovingly articulated especially in the west. But it is also a sacramental banquet, a Mystical Supper, in which we are privileged to feed upon the living bread from heaven and to drink the cup of salvation. It never ceases to be anything it truly is. St. Thomas Aquinas perhaps said it best: “O sacred Banquet! In which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us.” This is certainly something to consider when suggesting what liturgical music should authentically reflect.

  14. Two types of parishes, congregations, have not been talked about, which are on opposite ends of the demographic totem pole. Namely, the inner city, and the rural, or small town parish church. What is growth in those kinds of enviroments? Or can there be growth at all? Should these parishes be simply allowed to die a quiet death? Perhaps in the inner city, the parish can continue to be focused on an ethnic or racial group, and can for a while survive as long as there is no mass exodus by that group to the suburbs, and their worship style is geared to the needs of the particular group. The rural/small town is another matter. Thoughts anyone?

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