Thursday, April 29, 2010

Comparing Numbers and More on Faith Formation 2020

From the National Council of Churches 2010 Yearbook on Growth and Decline:

Some decline...
Compare to...
  • Jehovah’s Witness +2%
  • Church of God +1.78%
  • Latter-Day Saints +1.71%
  • Assemblies of God +1.71% (and just when I thought I could identify at least some patterns...)
  • Roman Catholic Church +1.49% (I am sure you can guess why this threw me for a loop, but even on the surface level, note that there is no "official" main website evangelizing for the Roman Catholic Church here...there is the vatican website, but its relationship to seekers is entirely unclear)
Worthy of note, the growth of the Roman Catholic Church is a return to previous year's patterns.  Last year they had an unusual decline.  The Latter Day Saints, Church of God and Assemblies of God folks, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses are also following a standing pattern of growth. 

On the side of decline, this is a second year in a row of decline for UUs and also for Southern Baptists.  The Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church have a history of decline too.  This decline has been discussed among religious leaders, according to my own recollections for at least a half decade now, as the "possible demise of mainline denominations."  (Please note: Although the UU pattern was previously one of growth, I won't claim that it was a growing "denomination," as it had never come close to keeping up with population growth.  Also, check out the 2009 and other previous yearbooks.)

In 2009, the National Council of Churches quoted its Yearbook Editor Eileen Lindner as having said: "There are no clear-cut theological or sociological reasons for church growth or decline."  This is the challenge of a document like Faith Formation 2020 (see post from Apr. 24).

However, Lindner does go on to say: "Many churches are feeling the impact of the lifestyles of younger generations of church-goers -- the 'Gen X'ers' or 'Millenials' in their 20s and 30s who attend and support local congregations but resist joining them."  That's part of what Faith Formation 2020 says.  Surely the folks over at Lifelong Faith Associates used the data in the yearbooks as part of their research for Faith Formation 2020.

Just thinking off the top of my head, there are some statistical possibilities related to the Faith Formation paper.  Let's call the growing set of churches GROUP G:

1.  GROUP G is responding most effectively to current cultural trends, or...
2.  GROUP G is doing the better job of serving those who are bucking cultural trends, rather than slowing down to keep the cultural majority in the fold, or...???

In light of the recommendations that seem to be forthcoming from Faith Formation 2020, I have some questions regarding GROUP G as it compares to GROUP D (the declining group).  The answers to the questions might test some of the hypotheses/assumptions behind the reommendations as well the recommendations themselves.

1.  Are there patterns of lifespan Religious Education/Faith Development in GROUP G that are not in GROUP D?

2.  Is GROUP G doing something unique in regard to guiding and providing opportunities for people to live into the "Christian way of life" that GROUP D lacks?  What is the relationship of GROUP G to the daily life of congregants, and to the world outside the church walls, and how do these relationships compare to the same relationships in GROUP D?

3.  Are GROUP G churches intentionally intergenerational?  Is implementation of religious education/faith formation happening on a regular basis outside of age-segregated classroom structures?  Are all generations included in all aspects of the church, from worship to leadership?  What does leadership training for young people look like?  How are generational transfers occurring?  And most importantly, how does this compare to patterns in GROUP D?

4.  How are GROUP G churches personalizing and customizing faith formation opportunities, and are there patterns that are different than in GROUP D churches?

5.  Is GROUP G fashioned around significant milestones and transitions across the lifespan?  How about GROUP D?  (I'm also wondering if in traditions where this is true, outside of the Christian tradition, whether there is currently a pattern of growth or decline.)

6.   Who is engaged in mission and service in GROUP G, and who in GROUP D? 

7.   How is spiritual formation and transformation promoted in GROUP G and GROUP D across the lifespan?

8.  Are there differences in regard to ethnic diversity levels of GROUP G and GROUP D?  Are there patterns of cultural responsiveness in one group or the other?

9.  How is a conversation in the public arena being fostered in GROUP G, and what are the similarities and differences between GROUP G and GROUP D in this regard?

10.  Does the learning experience in GROUP G churches show a significant pattern of being multi-sensory, image rich, experiential, and varied?  What are the differences between learning experiences in GROUP G and GROUP D?

11.  What is the investment level in parent/home faith formation efforts in GROUP G vs. GROUP D?

12.  Are GROUP G churches making unique use of digital media?  Are they accessible 24-7 through this media in a way or to an extent that GROUP D is not?  What is the relationship between virtual and face-to-face interactions in GROUP G and in GROUP D?

13.  Does GROUP G have more "3rd space" meeting places?  Does GROUP G have more "house churches?" 

15.  Are their faith formation apprenticeships being offered in GROUP G?  How about in group D?

16.  How does GROUP G create links or bridges between faith formation programming and involvement in the church life?  What are the equivilant patterns, if any, in GROUP D?

17.  What are the expectations for church involvement in GROUP G, and how are the expectations communicated?  In GROUP G, are congregants expected to create plans for the development or expression of their faith?  Does this happen to any degree in GROUP D, as a whole?

18.  To what degree are "Christian life immersion" experiences taking place in GROUP G vs. GROUP D?

Okay, that's a lot to chew on-- sorry-- but to the extent you are educated in any way about the traditions listed in either group, please consider chiming in with what you know about any of this. 

On the other hand, this post is not to assume that those traditions that are growing can necessarily point the way into an uncertain future.  I would like to also do some comparisons between the numbers and population growth.

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