Protestant churches that practice conservative theology are growing faster than those that embrace liberalism, an academic study has found.
The Canadian research found that congregations at growing churches tend to read the bible more regularly, believe in the literal truth of the Resurrection and believe that God works miracles in response to prayers. They also believe that converting non-Christians is a top priority.
The study, published in the Review of Religious Research, looked at 2,225 Protestant churchgoers in the Canadian province of Ontario, comparing the beliefs and practices of clergy and congregations at churches that were growing and declining.
It found that growing churches “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading”.
The research, reported in the Guardian, found that 100 per cent of clergy and 90 per cent of worshippers at growing churches believe that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”. In contrast, just 44 per cent of clergy and 80 per cent of worshippers believe the same at declining churches.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ was also a point of contention. Just 56 per cent of clergy and 67 per cent of worshippers at declining churches believe “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb” – one of key tenets of the Christian faith. In growing churches, however, 93 per cent of clergy and 83 per cent of worshippers agree with the statement.
The study also found that congregations at conservative churches tend to be younger, with two thirds of worshippers at growing churches aged under 60, while two thirds at declining churches are over 60.
David Haskell, the study’s lead researcher said: “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.”
“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,” he added.
“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.”