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Literature on Church Growth

Hover over a book to see the title,
and click on it to view the
literature index


How to Use

To navigate around the book there are a number of ways to travel. You can link to a page from the main index simply by clicking on a link.

To turn to the next page in the book, you can click the right or left edge of the page. You can also use the controls on the bookmarks, or my favourite is to grab a page corner with the mouse and turning.

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You can save or share the exact book page by simply copying the unique URL from your browser address bar.

Hope you enjoy reading the reviews!

The Empty Church Revisited

  • Author: Gill, R
  • Date of Publication: 2003
  • Origin: UK

The 'Empty' Church Revisited presents a systematic account of British churchgoing patterns over the last two hundred years, uncovering the factors and the statistics behind the considerable process of decline in church attendence. Dispelling as myth the commonly held views that the process of secularization in British culture has led to the decline in churchgoing and resulted in the predominantly empty churches of today, Gill points to physical factors, economics and issues of social space to shed new light on the origins of empty churches.

The Decline of the Church of England as a local membership organisation: Predicting the nature of civil society in 2050

  • Author: Cameron, H.
  • Date of Publication: 2003
  • Origin: UK

Cameron (2003) argues that decline as measured by Sunday attendance fails to capture the extent of the decline: and that the church should be more concerned by ways in which “membership”, as defined by voluntary activity and expectations of the church, is changing. She cites her own work (Cameron, 1998) studying five churches providing small scale social welfare in an English city. The expectations of members and clergy differed greatly in respect not just to attendance, but to the voluntary commitments essential to successfully running the social welfare operations of the church.

Referencing Evers’ (1995) description of delegated welfare provision she identifies a number of ways in which this model might predict church membership’s adapting form. One of these is “Cooption of Church membership” – loss of members’ efforts to other campaigning organisations. These organisations function at a national rather than local level, and have an attractive impact. One of the Church’s key missions is social justice; Cameron argues that would-be / former Church members adopt membership of these organisations as a way of having social justice impact which also fits their lifestyle.

The Sociology of Religion

  • Author: Davie, G
  • Date of Publication: 2007
  • Origin: UK/Europe/Global

Grace Davie's book provides a comprehensive text on the Sociology of Religion. 

Churchgoing and Christian Ethics

  • Author: Gill, R.
  • Date of Publication: 1999
  • Origin: UK

In Chapter 3 of this book Gill advances a cultural theory of churchgoing decline. He argues that churchgoing is the practice which fosters and sustains belief. This means that though practice may fluctuate, religious ethics - what Gill holds to be the measurable aspect of belonging - do not what Gill holds to be the measurable aspect of belonging - do not.

The author supports this theory by reference to his analysis of data from the British Social Attitudes Reports (1991, 1995).

  • Christian ethical beliefs are significantly more distinctive amongst regular churchgoers.
  • Strength of the belief increases with regularity of attendance.
  • Adult non-churchgoers who went as children have significantly more Christian ethical beliefs than those who have never been, even when childhood frequency was once a month.


Church Growth & Decline a test of the market based approach

  • Author: Cooper-Stoll, L. and Petersen, L.R.
  • Date of Publication: 2008
  • Origin: US

This paper presents a test of the hypothesis put forward by Finke and Stark (1985) and added to by Iannacone et al (1993) that a market economy – where religion is in supply and demand – is the force creating membership decline. This is also a formulation of rational choice theory, whereby individuals make choices based on maximising gains and minimising losses for themselves.

Lannacone et al’s hypothesis – that churches in higher tension with society (i.e conservative churches) have membership growth because of their emphasis on rewards and costs – is what is specifically tested here. The researchers select a group of churches in Tennessee for this test, with variables of: time and money, recruitment activity and extensiveness of outreach programs. Their dependent variable was church type (high/low tension) and church growth.

The test yields partial support for the high / low tension theory but not total.

After McDonaldisation: mission, ministry & Christian discipleship in an age of uncertainty

  • Author: Drane, J.
  • Date of Publication:
  • Origin: UK, Northern America, Australia

This is a follow-up to Dranes’s earlier book on church McDonaldisation (2000). Simple factors emphasise a power relationship within the church and hence indicates to congregants that power is limited and given only to those who are capable of using it. This limited power model plays into the hands of disillusioned consumer culture where passive “customers” expect clergy to have all the answers, and for those answers to be satisfactory to the customer. Drane refers to business terminology to make his case: businesses provide goods, services or transformations. With congregations feeling more passive and not empowered, the church becomes a service provider, and not a provider of transformation. He argues that these are Christendom relevant models of church which work from a top-down approach; and are therefore no longer relevant in this post Christendom society. Drane’s solution is that all people should be provided with the space to express their anxieties (especially when those anxieties result from the church itself); to engage with the fragmentary nature of their lives; and be shown these fragments brought together in the light of God’s work.  

Steps to the Future

  • Author: Brierley, P
  • Date of Publication: 2000
  • Origin: UK/Europe

This provides an overview of social trends relating to the church. Overall this text seeks to answer the question – “what are the key factors affecting society that the church needs to know in continuing its mission?” The text is primarily given over to a breakdown of descriptive statistics in various social surveys. Brierley's section on “Key factors of Church Life” (pg. 67) is noteworthy; here he collates the work of several researchers who have investigated ex-church members’ reasons for leaving using surveys. Catalysts for leaving described by Fanstone (1993) are irrelevance of the church’s activity, personal crises and loss of previous minister. Wakefield (1998) investigated the motivation for church changing: he found that 50% of church members relocating simply chose the nearest church, with 27% of these changing denomination in the process. In fact, Wakefield found that people were more likely to change denomination without relocation as a catalyst (53%). Brierley concludes by suggesting that growth stems from leadership, leadership from vision, and vision stems from “Horizon Mission Methodology”: a form of future-oriented strategic planning which Brierley describes.

The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith

  • Author: Walls, A.
  • Date of Publication: 2002
  • Origin: Global

This is an in-depth study of the mechanism and definitions of how Christianity has moved across geographical and cultural borders throughout history. As such it is instructive in helping us to describe the current situation in context. Walls sets the decline of Christianity in western Europe in context with its huge expansion in Latin America, China and the rest of Asia.

Pointing out that the majority of Christians belong to Africa, Asia and Latin America, he suggests that these are the regions that will make theological shifts, Christian choices and materials for new theology will be transferred through their own cultural heritage (as Europe’s is Hellenistic in origin). Therefore, Walls states, due to the economic states of these regions, Christianity and the body of the church will come to be a religion for the poor and very poor. In the meantime, population in the more economcially developed world declines along with religious participation, which is to be offset by increased immigration. Immigrants bring immigrant church, and it is this that we will have to respond to.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

  • Author: Putnam, R.D.
  • Date of Publication: 2000
  • Origin: US

This text deals with the decline of the communal organisations and the resultant loss of social capital in the U.S. The church creates social capital by creating a group united by belief, and in addition giving an impetus to act socially i.e outreach programs. Chapter 4 of this book relates specifically to religious participation. Putnam cites many studies which highlight religion’s role in social capital: religious participation is the best predictor of individuals having more face-to-face conversations per day, the best predictor of involvement in other civic groups, volunteering and charity donation. The rise of the evangelical church is fit to the social capital model to compete with the “strictness” hypothesis: Putnam states the evangelical church has been on the rise whilst other churches have been in decline because it offers very strong bonding social capital: members spend more time at church, attend more regularly than comparable mainline churches, donate in greater amounts, and have more close friends in the congregation than in other churches. Putnam argues that we go to church less, and those churches we do go to are less involved in community. Therefore the church is no longer a good foundation for providing bridging social capital.

Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging

  • Author: Davie, G.
  • Date of Publication: 1994
  • Origin: UK

Davie's seminal work is an important sociological work dealing with religion in modern day Britain. As stated in the title, it covers the years from the end of WWII to the present day. At the heart of the book is the thesis ‘Believing without Belonging’, which Davie uses to explain the high level of religious affinity found in national censuses in correlation to the low attendance figures found in Church (especially Anglican) records. In the first few chapters, Davie presents the case for her thesis using church attendance statistics for post War Britain together with different national and European factors that have influenced British society in general. In the last few chapters she discusses the possible implications and applications. Davie uses statistical data, historical data and sociological theory. In addition, she uses professional forums as sound boards for her work.

Religion and Social Capital: the flaw in the 2001 England and Wales Census

  • Author: Francis, L.J.
  • Date of Publication: 2001
  • Origin: UK

The key problem this paper seeks to address is whether disaggregating survey data by different denominations gives significantly different findings about Christianity in Britain. This is chiefly by reaction to the England and Wales 2001 Census only including the broader “Christian” as an option for religious affiliation.

Francis compares the Census returns with data from the British Social Attitudes survey, comparing various religious affiliates on a number of attributes, most notably social capital (likelihood of voluntary work, political voting behaviour etc). These suspected differences are indeed borne out by Chi square testing.

Mind the Gap: Generational change and its implications for mission in Public Faith in Public Faith? The state of religious belief and practice in Britain

  • Author: Percy, M. in Avis, P. (ed.)
  • Date of Publication: 2003
  • Origin: UK

Percy maps generational change in this essay. In conclusion he offers 5 challenges to the church:

  • How can we be church in an era where people accept the message but do not respond with commitment (i.e believing without belonging)?
  • After Putnam’s social capital thesis: how do churches provide to cater to niches of social identity, but also provide bridging inter-generationally.
  • The traditional-progressive / conservative-liberal distinction is of limited use to a new generation of more open churchgoers.
  • Success with the young will depend on a constantly renewed effort to understand successive generations.
  • Certain occasions continue to reach across the generations (such as Princess Diana’s funeral and 9/11).

God is Dead: Secularization in the West (Religion in the Modern World)

  • Author: Bruce, S.
  • Date of Publication: 2002
  • Origin: Global

One of a series of works by this author exploring his secularisation hypothesis. This is useful amongst the decline theories as it is constructed by recourse to significant datasets, is open to variations, and frequently suggests the mechanisms by which secularisation accrues. The primary areas Bruce identifies are that modernisation includes increased rationalisation of thought and social organisation; replacement of the small community by society-at-large; and the rise of both individualism and egalitarianism. 

In defence of the theory Bruce states that this does not predict the end of religion, a necessary end in atheism nor a concession to mere scientific rationalism; rather that it predicts that religion “decreases in social significance, becomes increasingly privatised and loses personal salience except where it finds work to do other than relating individuals to the supernatural.” Bruce sets out that this is how the apparent exceptions to secularisation occur across the world (for example in America, China and Latin America). The rest of the text applies his claims to datasets, mapping decline rather than responding to anticipated criticisms of Davie, Iannacone et al.

Going, going, gone: the impact of geographical mobility on Religious Involvement

  • Author: Bibby, R.W.
  • Date of Publication: 1997
  • Origin: Canada

This study is based on data from national surveys in Canada and seeks to demonstrate the impact of increased geographical mobility on church attendance. Bibby notes that movement can bring transfer growth to other churches – citing research showing that greater mobility promotes denominational fluidity, and even openness to other religious forms. There is a question in the introduction of whether the link is a linear drop in participation when people move or whether people adopt the religiosity of their new milieu This study uses postal survey data from 1980-1995 to establish degree of movement and religious participation over a 15 year period. In accordance with the above Bibby also includes variables for age, education level, childhood participation, denomination and where the move was to. Predictably, those who moved most were young and lived in cities. The move seems to have an effect on this group: but Bibby takes this much further in conducting multiple zero-order correlations to unscramble the effects, selecting only those where r>0.15. The result was that geographical mobility has a significant impact on religious participation, and this is particularly true if moving when younger.


Work, family and religious involvement for men and women

  • Author: Becker, P.E. & Hofmeister, H.
  • Date of Publication: 2001
  • Origin: US

This study focuses on differential religious participation of a sample of 1006 New Yorkers based on their work values, gender and social maturational stage. It looks specifically at religious involvement, making a distinction between this and participation which they define as attendance. Involvement is given as wider membership of religious organisations: anything from a Bible study group to a campaigning charity. The researchers used a telephone survey of 4 upstate NY communities with a level of church attendance representative of the national average. They constructed variables for “involvement” (at least monthly attendance & use of congregational ministries other than worship & involvement in a local religious group other than a congregation) and also measured, alongside the nominal demographics, percent working more than 35 hours a week; how “modern” their values were; and how salient religion is. The researchers find that degree-level education is positively associated with involvement, and that age loses its effect when salience is included in the model. This study produces a complex web of correlations of factors and differences between men and women.

God is Dead: Secularization in the West

  • Author: Bruce, S.
  • Date of Publication: 2002
  • Origin: UK

This is one of a series of works by Bruce exploring his secularisation hypothesis.The primary areas Bruce identifies are that modernisation includes increased rationalisation of thought and social organisation; replacement of the small community by society-at-large; and the rise of both individualism and egalitarianism.

In defence of the theory Bruce states that this does not predict the end of religion, a necessary end in atheism, nor a concession to mere scientific rationalism; rather that it predicts that religion “decreases in social significance, becomes increasingly privatised and loses personal salience except where it finds work to do other than relating individuals to the supernatural.”

Bruce sets out that this is how the apparent exceptions to secularisation occur across the world (for example in America, China and Latin America). The rest of the text applies his claims to datasets, mapping decline rather than responding to anticipated criticisms.

Towards the Conversion of England

  • Author: Temple, W
  • Date of Publication: 1943
  • Origin: UK

This is not a study but a summary thesis of Archbishop Temple’s understanding and viewpoint on Christianity in England. Temple’s understanding of the decline in church attendance comes from a belief hat humanism has infiltrated the social values of England via increasingly secular education, increased urbanisation and mechanised thinking. Picking out some familiar themes:

  • The part of the clergy in evangelism. Temple reminds the clergy that not all will be familiar with liturgical worship and that “there will be the need…of informal services to which non-worshippers can be invited, introduced to the art of worship, and instructed in it.”
  • The training of the clergy for evangelism. Temple advocates that evangelism be taught in pre-ordination, but crucially that it be practised and that those who are inexperienced must do to learn.
  • The part of the laity in evangelism. Evangelism is for the home, for work and for wider society as opposed to being enclosed to the church or church organisations. Temple urges that lay evangelism teams be trained. 

Religion in Britain: Neither believing nor belonging

  • Author: Voas, D. and Crockett, A.
  • Date of Publication: 2005
  • Origin: UK

This article is primarily an exploration of the ‘believing without belonging’ thesis espoused by Grace Davie and others. Voas and Crockett are critical of the thesis and argue that ‘religious belief has declined at the same rate as religious affiliation and attendance, and is not even necessarily higher than belonging’. Using data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), they identify two measures of belonging: affiliation (to a particular religion) and participation (attendance at religious services or meetings). For belief they use a measure of importance of belief to the individual (in the sense of what difference religious belief makes to their life). Whilst more people believe than attend, belief has declined more markedly in absolute terms. The authors also use British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey (1982-2003), which indicates a cohort effect – that each successive generation is less religious than preceding generations. They also explore the intergenerational transmission of religious affiliation, that is to say how people’s religious affiliations are shaped by the religious affiliations of their parents.

Religion in Modern Britain: Changing Sociological Assumptions

  • Author: Davie, G.
  • Date of Publication: 2000
  • Origin: UK

Davie argues, in this article and elsewhere, that while formal religious participation has declined in Western Europe, belief has remained relatively constant. This is termed the ‘believing without belonging’ thesis. Importantly, belief in this context is not always orthodox religious belief, but also more general spiritual beliefs. These beliefs have withstood the fall in Church affiliation and attendance. Davie argues that reducing believing and belonging purely to quantitative measures loses some of the nuances involved. She explores qualitative examples of collective belief, especially in terms of public grief, and uses such examples as the Hillsborough disaster and the death of Princess Diana. For Davie these examples illustrate that ‘belief has drifted from the Christian norm, but it has not disappeared’ (p. 118). She concludes that there is ‘belief without belonging’, in the sense of ‘low practice and relatively persistent belief’, and that this phenomenon is peculiar to Western Europe and not found elsewhere in the world.

Why Conservative Churches are Growing: a Study in Sociology of Religion

  • Author: Kelley, D.
  • Date of Publication: 1996
  • Origin: USA

This book considers the fact of growing conservative churches. As secularization and modernization theory crumbled with the resurgence of conservative religion in public life in the US and around the world, it became clear that conservative religion was not going away quietly and that social science had not been entirely correct. This is among the first to recognize that there was something mistaken with social science's predictions of a secular future. This book is part of a dramatic recognition among scholars that lots of Americans find conservative Churches profoundly attractive.

The Future of Christianity

  • Author: Martin, D
  • Date of Publication: 2011
  • Origin: UK / Europe

This book contains Sociological studies which intelligently challenges assumptions about the future of the church and the optimum environments in which the church grows, based on sociological analysis.

More detail can be found by following this link.