A Canadian study concludes that churches teaching from a literal interpretation of the Bible experience greater growth rates than those holding to a more culturally accepted, seeker-friendly, liberal translation of the Scriptures.
The five-year research project slated to be published next month in the internationally respected and recognized journal, Review of Religious Research, argues against advice that churches switch over to a more progressive theology – such as the Church of England on the matter of same-sex “marriage” – to reverse continued declines in membership. It also suggests that a literal teaching on heaven and hell should not be abandoned by churches looking to strengthen their numbers.
Avoid the social ‘gospel’
Instead of caving in to societal pressures to embrace a more secular, politically correct worldview on issues addressed in the Bible – such as homosexuality, abortion, abstinence before marriage and capital punishment -- researchers behind the project advise churches looking to increase their membership to hold to a conservative theology on controversial topics.
“[On all counts, growing churches] held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading," David Haskell, the lead researcher of the study, explained, according to The Guardian.
Haskell and his crew began their research project titled "Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy" at the beginning of decade, interviewing 2,235 churchgoers in Ontario, Canada, along with 29 clergy members and 195 congregants.
Statistics show that closely adhering to God’s Word is what draws church attendance – not adapting or interpreting biblical teachings to embrace a progressive mindset.
"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," Haskell announced.
The head of the research team also noted that – generally speaking – social groups holding to an unwavering, united message that maintains strict boundaries are more appealing to outsiders looking to join. He also asserted that conservative Christians were found to be more unified when it comes to priorities and holding to moral absolutes grounded in God’s Truth.
“That also makes them more confident and – to those on the outside looking in – confidence is persuasive all on its own,” Haskell insisted, according to Christian Today. “Confidence mixed with a message that's uplifting, reassuring or basically positive is an attractive combination."
Devotion speaks volumes
When asking clergy whether or not they believe it is “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians,” 100 percent of those from growing churches agreed, contrasted to a mere 50 percent of clergy from churches declining in numbers.
It was also discovered that 71 percent of clergy from growing churches read the Bible on a daily basis, while only 19 percent of clergy at declining churches pick up God’s Word to read every day.
Belief in what the Bible says about heaven and hell was also monitored to show why those ascribing to a literal interpretation of salvation were more likely to draw new members into their congregations.
"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," Haskell pointed out.. "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.”
Due to the fact that they have more urgency to see others saved, churchgoers holding to a more conservative theology make it a greater priority to try new and improved ways to reach the lost.
"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," Haskell continued.
Failure to stick to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures has taken its toll on a number of Christian denominations that have sought to adopt a more humanistic way of looking at the world – in an attempt to embrace a larger segment of society. However, most churches walking down the straight and narrow path provided by a literal understanding of God’s teachings were found to be thriving in numbers.
“The Church of England has been on a steady decline for decades, and figures published last month showed regular attendance had dropped to an all-time low,” Christian Today’s Harry Farley reports. “But a number of large churches break the mold of decline and tend to fit within Haskell's interpretation – as they generally have a more conservative theology.”