New Congregations Study

In 2013, a multi-denominational study of new and renewing congregations was conducted by Dr. Marjorie Royle through the Congregational Assessment, Support and Advancement (CASA) Team of the United Church of Christ and the Center for Progressive Renewal. The results below were from the survey sample of new UCC congregations and were compiled by Dr. Royle. Results were based on responses from a sample group of 85 newly planted congregations in the UCC since 2006. These results, along with reflections from pastors about transformation and success factors within these new ministries, can be found in the 2014 UCC Statistical Profile.

In comparing ministry models for new UCC congregations, 52% utilized an alternative model of ministry such as an emerging church or seeker ministry model. Often, they worshiped at a time other than Sunday morning and in a place other than a traditional sanctuary. Overall, 23% were similar in ministry style to traditional UCC churches. The majority of members in 10% of these new congregations were from new immigrant communities, while 8% were primarily African-American and 6% were multi-racial/multi-ethnic.

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In general, new congregations attracted new and younger members than other congregations. Of these members, on average, 15% were under 18, 17% were 18 to 35, 26% were 35 to 49, 24% were 50 to 65, and 17% were over 65. When compared with data gathered from a general sample of UCC congregations through the Faith Communities Today (FACT) 2010 Survey, on average, there were fewer members in congregations under age 50 (36% of all members) and significantly more members over age 65 (41% of all members).

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In analyzing other membership demographics of new congregations, 61% were female, 55% were college graduates, and 33% were LGBT. Only 10% of members of new congregations were lifelong UCC (or predecessor denominations). Additionally, 16% of members were former Roman Catholics; and 31% were previously unchurched individuals. Statistics gathered from a general sample of UCC congregations through the Faith Communities Today (FACT) 2010 Survey indicated that, on average, 63% of UCC members were female, 43% were college graduates, and 4% were LGBT. Four in ten members (43%) of UCC congregations were lifelong UCC (or predecessor denominations).

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Generally, different ministry models of new congregations attracted different types of people. For new UCC congregations, alternative ministry models attracted a greater percentage of young adults (18-34) than traditional models (7%). Alternative models in new congregations also attracted a greater percentage of unchurched individuals (41%) than traditional models (18%).

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In contextualizing this information, what ministry model(s) does your congregation most embody? How does the membership of your congregation compare with the membership of new congregations? What other factors might affect membership and participation demographics for your congregation?

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