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New Study Reveals Church's Growing Diversity

  • Jenni Parker Agape Press
  • 2004 15 Mar
New Study Reveals Church's Growing Diversity

According to a newly released study, the typical Protestant church service in the United States has become increasingly modernized and diversified in recent years as more churches incorporate non-traditional music, diverse styles of worship, and modern technologies into their worship experience.

A report on a new study being released in the March/April edition of "Facts and Trends" magazine shows that there has been a significant increase in contemporary worship styles in America's Protestant churches over the last five years. The study was conducted by Ellison Research among a representative sample of pastors of Protestant churches throughout the U.S.

The participating ministers were asked about changes in the overall worship style of their churches over the past five years. While 44 percent reported no significant change, 15 percent said their churches had moved in much more contemporary direction, while another 36 percent said their worship had become a little more contemporary. Only 5 percent said their worship had become more traditional during the time period in question.


In general, the study found that churches moving toward more contemporary worship outpaced those churches moving in a more traditional direction by a margin of eleven to one. Larger churches and churches led by younger ministers were most likely to have made a significant shift toward more contemporary styles, and Pentecostal churches were more than twice as likely to move in that direction (31 percent to 12 percent).

Ministers were also asked about specific worship elements used in churches today, as compared with those they employed five years ago. One of the biggest changes found was in the use of electronic media. Five years ago, only 5 percent of all Protestant churches used PowerPoint or similar computer graphics presentations at least once a month. Today 36 percent of churches use projected computer graphics. And similar figures are reported for the use of video such as clips of movies, music videos, or well-known speakers, during worship services. Five years ago only 4 percent of churches used video clips during services, but today that number has risen to 29 percent.

The proportion of Protestant churches using praise and worship choruses during worship rose from 38 percent in 1999 to 74 percent today. The use of drama skits or sketches has risen from 23 percent to 42 percent. And the use of Christian rock, pop, or country music in worship rose from 9 percent five years ago to 25 percent today.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison research, notes that the greatest growth found was in worship elements that nevertheless are used by fewer than half of the churches. "Drama, video clips, computer graphics, and pop music were among the fast-growing elements, with still a lot of room for growth," he says.

The study revealed that the most popular elements of worship continue to be the some of the most time-honored and widely used ones: 95 percent of churches pass an offering basket, plate, or bag to take up offerings; 88 percent sing traditional hymns; 89 percent celebrate communion; 85 percent use a printed bulletin for order of service; and 78 percent use hymnals at least once a month.

Even among these elements there were increases. For instance, use of printed bulletins rose from 68 percent five years ago to 85 percent today. "Even traditional elements such as hymns, altar calls, and communion celebrations have become more common as churches diversify what they offer to worshipers," Sellers says.

Although Ellison Research's study indicates that much has changed about Protestant worship over the past five years, it appears one thing has remained fairly uniform - the length of the pastor's sermon. Today the average minister preaches for about 31 minutes, approximately the same as five years ago, with Pentecostals preaching the longest sermons (about 40 minutes on average) and Lutherans and Methodists preaching the shortest ones - around 20 minutes.

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