Those were just some of the results from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey conducted in regard to new Presbyterian churches. Results of the survey were made available by download by Research Services, a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the PCUSA.
New PCUSA congregations formed from 1990-2009 were eligible to take part in the survey (excluding those created by a merger). Of 426 asked to participate, 117 agreed to do so, with 97 of those returning completed surveys during the fall of 2011.
Responses from new churches were compared to those from a sample of 521 Presbyterian churches that completed the same survey in late 2008/early 2009.
Based on average worship attendance in 2008, the median size of a new PCUSA congregation is 82, compared to 78 for those started prior to 1990. Data also reveals the average membership of PCUSA congregations to be 187, down from 269 since 1983.
Some new Presbyterian congregations started within the last five years were a result of “church planting” by another congregation or presbytery. The median founding year of the churches started from 1990-2009 was 1996, compared to the median founding year of 1888 for the older congregations.
The average member age of new congregations created since 1990 is 59, with 39 percent of worshipers ages 65 and older. In the older congregations, 43 percent of worshipers are 65 or older, with an average age of 61.
Major findings of the study showed that new Presbyterian churches received more contributions and have larger budgets and staff than typical Presbyterian congregations. New church worshipers give 10 percent or more to the congregation.
Ninety-four percent of all income in new churches comes from individual donations averaging $1,871 per worshiper, with 89 percent of that going toward operating expenses of the church. In comparison, 88 percent of income in older churches comes from individual contributions at an average of $1,807 per worshiper, with 86 percent of that going for the operating budget.
Income from all sources was $5,600 more in newer churches where the budget also was more than $10,000 higher.
While worshipers give more in the new churches, those congregations typically do not receive endowment income. Only one in 10 gets income from investments or bequests, whereas about half of older churches receive endowment funding.
More new (22 percent) than older (15 percent) churches show an increase in their financial base, but nearly three of 10 (28 percent) new churches and almost four of 10 (38 percent) older churches reported declining financial bases.
Nearly one in five new churches has worship services in space owned by another group, and 16 percent of those pay a rental fee for use of such space. By contrast, 99 percent of older congregations own their facilities. Twenty percent of new churches have moved within the last five years, but only 1 percent of older congregations have gone though such a change during the same period.
In terms of meeting spiritual needs, new churches offered more prayer groups than older congregations and a third of them provided more than one worship service in a typical week. Only about a quarter of older PCUSA churches provide more than one service.
Worship services in newer churches also are more likely to include the use of visual projection equipment, electric guitars and drums, while older churches rely on hymn books and organ music. Laughter, applause, expressing “amen,” raising hands in praise and providing a witness of personal religious experiences are more prevalent in new churches than older ones, where worship most likely involves a written service bulletin, reading or speaking in unison and silent prayer along with the pastor’s message.
Half of new churches but nearly three-quarters of older churches describe their services as traditional. Nearly half (46 percent) of new churches blend traditional and contemporary elements in their worship, something done in only three of 10 older churches.
Other findings of the survey include:
- Sermons in new PCUSA churches tend to be longer than older ones (sermons are reported to last no longer than 20 minutes in congregations that have been in existence longer).
- New PCUSA churches use email (90 percent) more to communicate than older churches (72 percent), and 86 percent of them uses web sites to stay in touch with attendees, compared to 63 percent of those more-established congregations.
- New Presbyterian churches are more ethnically diverse, reporting that 82 percent of their worshipers identify as white, compared to 94 percent of those in older congregations.
- Fifty-eight percent of worshipers at new churches are females, a figure that is 62 percent in older churches.
- Twenty-eight percent of new church worshipers have a household income of $100,000 or more. That figure is 24 percent in older churches.
- The largest percentage of churches in each group identifies the congregation’s theological position as in the middle (44 percent for new churches, 42 percent for older churches).
- Politically, more new Presbyterian churches consider themselves in the middle (46 percent) rather than conservative (42 percent). Older PCUSA churches consider themselves conservative (46 percent) rather than right in the middle (41 percent).
Additional results of the survey can be found on the PCUSA web site.