A new study released by the Research Services office of the Presbyterian Church USA on the 400 fastest growing churches in the denomination, showed that such congregations were more likely to be theologically conservative, do community ministry, offer more worship services, more likely to use contemporary music and place more emphasis on preaching and spiritual life.
The top 400 “fastest growing churches” were compiled by calculating the percentage increase in worship from increase in worship from 1998 to 2002. Worship attendance was used as the primary factor to determine the top 400 because it is generally regarded as a better measure than church membership when considering the vitality and mission of a local congregation.
The survey was based on the responses of 93 of the top 400 churches, and was performed to provide some guidelines for congregations that want to grow. The answers from the top 93 churches were compared to responses from 523 other Presbyterian congregations that were selected randomly.
The most striking aspect of the survey was in theology. 48 of the 400 top PCUSA churches are those affiliated with the Confessing Church Movement, which is the conservative wing of Presbyterians that completely rejects same-sex “marriage” blessings and ordinations. Comparatively, only four in the top 400 were churches affiliated with the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and/or More Light Churches - the liberal groups that advocate homosexuality in the denomination.
Additionally, 6 of the 16 largest congregations are affiliated with the Confession Church Movement.
Another striking finding was that most of the churches that grew in worship attendance, were very small in size. 11 of the 400 congregations have 1,000 or more members; 237 of the top-400 congregations have 100 or fewer members; 131 have 50 or fewer; and 26 have 25 or fewer. The smaller congregations are the ones that tend to have the highest growth in worship attendance – the increases ranged from 47 to 391 percent.
The top 400 churches showed an aggregate growth of 20 percent from 1998 to a total membership of 88,839 in 2002; the actual gain for the top 400 was 28,596. Overall, the denomination lost 135,705 members from 1998 to 2002.
Additionally, in the top 400, 78.7 percent of the members attended worship services, compared to the 50 percent average nationwide.
The top 400 represent 3.6 percent of the congregations in the PCUSA.