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On matters of faith size of church matters

Staff Report • Aug 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

A new report from The Barna Group, based on interviews with more than 3,000 adults, shows that congregational size is related to the nature of a congregation’s religious beliefs, religious behavior and demographic profile. There are clearly significant differences between the smallest and largest of Protestant churches in terms of the theological beliefs of adherents. The survey s discovered:- On 17 indicators of religious belief and behavior there were statistically significant differences between churches of 100 or fewer adult attenders and churches of 1000 or more adult attenders. The only item tested in which there was not a distinction was whether the church attender had prayed during the past week.- On all 9 of the belief statements tested, attenders of large churches were more likely than those engaged in a small or mid-sized congregation to give an orthodox biblical response – e.g., the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches, Satan is not merely symbolic but exists, Jesus led a sinless life, God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe, etc. - On seven of the eight behavioral measures, attenders of large churches were substantially more likely than those of small churches to be active. (These included behaviors such as attending church in the past week, reading the Bible in the past week, volunteering at their church in the past week, etc.) - There were significant differences on six of the ten demographic attributes examined. Specifically, larger churches were more likely to have college graduates, affluent attenders, and children under 18 living in their home. Adults attending Protestant mega-churches were also more likely to be registered to vote and to be registered as a Republican.- Young adults were somewhat more likely to attend mega-churches than to affiliate with a congregation of any other size. - Overall, the profile of demographics, beliefs and religious behaviors was strikingly similar between congregations of 500 to 999 adult attenders and that of congregations drawing 1000 or more adults. Similarly, congregations with fewer than 50 adults were generally similar regarding most indicators to congregations with 50 to 100 attenders.- The point at which congregational belief profiles were mostly likely to diverge was when churches reached the 200-adult range. Those who attend churches of 1000 or more adults are significantly different from the congregations of those attending churches of as many as 200 adults in relation to six out of the 10 belief statements explored.- The religious beliefs and behaviors of people who attend house churches, which average about 20 adults in attendance, are more similar to the results for large conventional churches (i.e., more than 500 adults) than they are to the outcomes among those who attend small conventional churches (i.e., less than 50 adults).- Despite the substantial attention focused on Protestant mega-churches, such congregations draw about 9% of adults who frequent a Protestant church. In contrast, 41% of adults attending a Protestant church associate with a congregation of 100 or fewer adults. An additional 23% can be found at churches of 101 to 200 adults, 18% associate with bodies of 201 to 499 adults, and 9% can be found in churches of 500 to 999 adults. CLICK HERE for the full report.

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