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U.S. Protestant Pastors Envision Hopeful Future for Churches

Protestant pastors in the U.S. have an optimistic, hopeful vision for the future of their congregations, according to a LifeWay Research report published Feb. 13.

Few said they were most concerned about finances (5 percent), member commitment (9 percent) or declining interest in faith (11 percent).

Rather, the greatest concern for 40 percent of respondents was reaching the next generations – 24 percentage points higher than any other response.

A question about involvement of 18- to 29-year-olds provides insight into the emphasis on reaching younger generations.

While 32 percent reported an increase in worship attendance among this age group in the past five years, 29 percent saw a decrease and 39 percent saw no change.

The pastors surveyed were hopeful regarding engagement of younger generations, with 72 percent expecting more 18- to 29-year-olds to attend worship in the next five years, while 25 percent thought they would remain stable and only 4 percent anticipated a decrease.

Overall, pastors reported – though no hard data had to be submitted – that worship attendance has largely remained stable in recent years.

Only 27 percent of pastors reported decreases, while 36 percent saw increases and 37 percent noted no change.

Respondents were quite optimistic about the future of worship attendance, with 79 percent anticipating increases in the years ahead. Only 5 percent expected decreases, and 16 percent said it would likely remain the same.

“There is a sharp contrast between how many pastors think their churches are going to grow and how few are actually growing. We have one-third with worship attendance growing and 79 percent who say it’s going to grow in the next five years,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, in a press release announcing the report. “There is a huge amount of optimism there. And yet, you have to ask what needs to change to actually see that increase happen?”

The full report is available here.