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Liberal churches in decline while orthodox ones grow, says study of Protestants in Canada

Churches at Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia (PA)

A study of Protestant churches in Canada has found that growing churches tend to be more orthodox, while shrinking ones are theologically liberal.

Terry Mattingly, author of the Get Religion blog, covered the findings of the study, which appeared in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religion Research.

The researchers, David Millard Haskell, Kevin N Flatt and Stephanie Burgoyne, looked at 22 mainline Protestant churches in Canada. Nine of the churches were growing in attendance, while 13 were declining. The researchers found that when other factors were controlled for, ”the theological conservatism of both attendees and clergy emerged as important factors in predicting church growth.”

In the growing churches, 93 per cent of clergy and 83 per cent of the congregation affirmed that Jesus rose from the dead, leaving an empty tomb. In the declining churches, only 56 per cent of clergy and 67 per cent of the congregation affirmed this.

In growing congregations, all the clergy interviewed said it was crucial to encourage non-Christians to convert. In declining ones, only half the clergy agreed.

The study found that, in growing churches, pastors were even more orthodox than their congregations. In declining ones, the pastors were even more liberal.

Growing congregations were likely to be younger and have more children.

Haskell told Mattingly: “”If you believe that Jesus is THE path to the best life in this life, and eternal life in the next, then you’re going to practice your faith differently than someone who believes that all religions are basically the same. … As it turns out, doctrines really do have consequences.”