Church, Practices, Reflections

George Barna on How Faith Varies by Congregational Size

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 results discovered the following:

* 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.) The average difference related to these seven behaviors was 17 percentage points.

* There were significant differences on six of the ten demographic attributes examined. Specifically, larger churches were more likely to have college graduates (a 22 percentage point difference between those who attend churches of 100 adults or less and those who attend congregations with 1000 or more adults), 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 (a 16-point gap compared to adults attending churches of up to 100 adults). Those who attend small churches were more likely to home-school their children.

Barna adds that the significant transition barrier is found at around 200 persons in worship. The variations from congregations with 50-100 and over 1000 in worship were significantly different from those congregations that averaged about 200 in worship. As Barna points out, congregations with less than 200 in worship are where about 65% worship with larger congregations serving about 35% of a typical Sunday’s worshipers. Barna closes with a disclaimer that is unclear whether or not the beliefs and practices were taught in the churches currently being attended or formed at an earlier stage in one’s spiritual formation.