Research Says: Conservative Theology Helps Churches Grow Faster
Conservative churches grow faster than more liberal leaning ones, a five-year study has shown.
The paper found that churches that relied on a more literal reading of the Bible and a certain belief in hell were more likely to grow than others. The controversial study counters calls for the Church of England to change traditional aspects of its teaching, such as over gay marriage, to reverse its continued decline.
The Canadian study will be published in next month's Review of Religious Research, an internationally respected journal. The researchers behind "Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy", interviewed 2,225 churchgoers in Ontario, Canada, in addition to 29 clergy and 195 congregants.
According to the Guardian, they found on all counts that growing churches "held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading," said David Haskell, the lead researcher.
"If we are talking solely about what belief system is more likely to lead to numerical growth among Protestant churches, the evidence suggests conservative Protestant theology is the clear winner."
Haskell suggested that in general, social groups with a consistent united message and strict boundaries were more appealing to outsiders.
He said that conservative Christians tended to be more unified in their priorities and in holding the same understanding of right and wrong. "That also makes them more confident and, to those on the outside looking in, confidence is persuasive all on its own. Confidence mixed with a message that's uplifting, reassuring or basically positive is an attractive combination."
Following on from this, the study found that 100 per cent of clergy in growing churches agreed it was "very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians" compared to just 50 per cent in declining churches.
And 71 per cent of clergy in growing churches read the Bible daily compared to just 19 per cent in declining churches.
"Conservative believers, relying on a fairly literal interpretation of scripture, are 'sure' that those who are not converted to Christianity will miss their chance for eternal life," said Haskell. "Because they are profoundly convinced of [the] life-saving, life-altering benefits that only their faith can provide, they are motivated by emotions of compassion and concern to recruit family, friends and acquaintances into their faith and into their church.
"This desire to reach others also makes conservative Protestants willing to implement innovative measures including changes to the style and content of their worship services."
The Church of England has been on a steady decline for decades and figures published last month showed regular attendence had dropped to an all-time low.
But a number of large churches break the mould of decline and tend to fit within Haskell's interpretation as they generally have a more conservative theology.