Geoff Knott
Social action and church growth 2013

In Autumn 2012, several thousand Churches of all denominations across the UK were surveyed to see how they were currently involved in social action in their communities and 359 churches responded. The results of that national survey and a previous one in 2010 are on this website.

One of the questions, which was not reported on in the above research was:
“Thinking of organised activities of your Church in the local community in the last 12 months, how do your rate their effectiveness in seeing people added to the church?”

We did not publish the results of this question in the original report as we did not want to detract from the news of the great work that churches up and down the country are doing in our communities day by day with an analysis re proselytization.

We have therefore taken some time to think about the response to the question and present our thoughts here. We hope these inform you as seek to reach your community with good news.

The leading encouragement in the Survey was ‘Attendance at Events/Growth’. This is exciting news for the Church as it shows that social action is helping it connect to local communities and has resulted in Church growth. Social action seems to enable connection to people who are not at a place where they would be interested in Alpha or equivalent courses.

Responses to the question, “Thinking of organised activities of your church in the local community in the last 12 months, how do your rate their effectiveness in seeing people added to the church?”, show that if you look at the responses to ‘Ok’, ‘Good’ and ‘Excellent’, all initiatives have some effect on church growth, some a lot more than others.

One might be tempted then as a church leader to just pick the most fruitful on average, but is that the whole story? Obviously not: some churches running the same social initiative respond with ‘Poor’; some respond with ‘Good’ and ‘Excellent’. What could be the reasons for this?

Is there a difference in evangelistic gifting within church members who run the same social action initiative at different churches? We obviously have no data on this, but it seems reasonable to assume that it would be profitable for a church leader to train those involved in social initiatives in evangelism to help equip them.

As well as this, the biggest difference seems to be size of church and picking the right initiatives for the church location, e.g. inner city. The same initiatives in larger churches are scored higher in terms of effect on church growth, i.e. the same initiative is seen as more fruitful. Different initiatives are more fruitful in different locations.

The top 10 social action initiatives that have an effect on church growth:

1. Children's Club - up to age 11 (apart from church children's ministry)
2. Mothers and Toddlers
3. Special Needs Adults
4. Pre-school nursery
5. Bereavement Counselling (apart from church members)
6. Festivals/Fun days
7. Primary School Clubs/Summer clubs
8. Caring for Elderly (apart from church members)
9. Cafe open to public
10. Mental Health/Stress Counselling (apart from church members)

Traditional Church activities of working with children and community building have the most effect on church growth on average. However, activities involving increasing life skills and crisis intervention still show a positive effect.

We need to strike a note of caution here due to the possible behaviour of some parents to get their children into faith schools.

If we classify individual social initiatives as ‘long term’ (building relationships over 6 months or longer), ‘medium term’ (contact for 2 months to 6 months), and ‘short term’ (contact for less than 2 months), we see that social initiatives that involve long-term relationship-building are more fruitful on average than shorter contact ones. Obviously contact could have been made before involvement in a social initiative and could carry on afterwards so these figures will not tell the entire story.

Church size makes a huge difference to the effect on church growth – the larger the church, the greater the effect.

This may reflect the fact that larger churches undertake more initiatives, but more initiatives in larger churches are scored higher in terms of effect on church growth, i.e. the same initiative is more fruitful.

What might be some of the reasons for this? We can suggest a few:

• Larger churches have more volunteers to help in a social initiative – this enables more time to be spent with individuals and creates a buzz.
• Larger churches have more staff to help, encourage and equip their members for social action.
• Larger churches have better facilities. People are used to high standards – think Costa outlet versus a cold Church Hall. What does that communicate about the church?
• Larger churches give a feeling of ‘something is happening here’. This causes questions.
• Larger churches run many more initiatives and therefore people get ‘multiple touches’. Some people need many nudges on their spiritual journey.
• Larger churches are large because they are evangelistic – it’s in their DNA.
• In smaller churches, volunteers are often focused on ‘keeping the church running’ duties, e.g. Sunday set-up. In larger churches, members can focus outward.
• Volunteers are more empowered in larger churches? The leaders cannot be involved in everything so they have to release people and empower them.
• Larger churches are able to operate quite involved social initiatives, e.g. café.

Church location does make a difference to the effect on church growth of social action – especially between inner city and rural churches. Different social actions are more fruitful in different locations.

Download the executive summary here.