Growing churches target their programs to specific groups rather than try to be all things to all people, according to a report issued by the Barna Research Group in Glendale, California.

The 47-page report, titled “Successful Churches: What They Have in Common,” is based on a study of Protestant churches that are growing in attendance at a rate of 10 percent or more per year. They range from traditional, denominational churches to contemporary, nondenominational congregations that have between 800 and 14,000 regular worshipers on Sundays. The churches studied include some that were started within the past five years and others that are more than 50 years old. Among its conclusions, the report says that “church growth is not so much a magic formula as it is a series of creative and sensitive responses to a changing environment.”

According to the report, the growing congregations “refused to be enticed into areas of ministry in which they discerned no special calling. Instead, they concentrated on doing what they were called to do,” such as focusing on teenagers, single adults, or the elderly. Although this approach meant that some people did not feel at home in these churches and went elsewhere, the successful churches “were at peace with this friendly parting of ways with such seekers,” the report says.

Service Over Numbers

Another finding of the Barna research was that growing churches do not concentrate on numerical growth but experience it as a by-product of successful programs. “Numerical growth is a consequence of their efforts, not the focus of their energies,” the report says. “The churches upon which this report is based have a single purpose in mind: to serve God with all of the integrity and resources they can muster. Importantly, they would be willing not to grow if growth meant compromising their faith and the practice of their beliefs.”

In citing the characteristics of successful churches, the report cautions that “churches which attempt to grow primarily by copying what other, growing churches have done tend to fall flat. Each church has been called to uniqueness and ought to explore ways of exploiting its uniqueness in service to God.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.