Part 3 of the series “The Dis-Integration of the Church” – click here for part 1, click here for part 2
In the first post of this series, “Religious Homophily: A Theory of Conservative Church Fragmentation,” I presented sociological and psychological support for the notion that “conservative” Christian churches (principally, those whose congregations adhere to exclusive theological beliefs) fragment and divide because factions within the congregation eventually split over biblical interpretations. The research into conservative fragmentation was in response to Ken Howard’s article, “The Religion Singularity: A Demographic Crisis Destabilizing and Transforming Institutional Christianity,” which demonstrates that church splitting is on a significant rise, even to the point of outpacing the growth of Christianity itself. In the second post of the series, “Status of the Liberal Church: Fragmentation or Dissipation?,” I explained that “liberal” Christianity suffers more from congregational dissipation than fragmentation. In other words, dwindling memberships occur more frequently in liberalism than actual church splits. Those who leave mainline Protestantism either transfer into an unaffiliated status or into evangelical churches. In this article, I will seek to answer whether theological conservatism and strictness play a vital role in denominational switching, as well as what factors cause churches to grow numerically. In the end, the idea that liberal theologies cause a deterioration in mainline Protestantism, while conservative theologies produce growth, is an oversimplification of the relevant factors that account for congregational development. Though theological conservatism tends to correlate with numerical expansion, it does not do so consistently and in all cases. Nonetheless, correlation does not equate to causation. Conservatism and strictness are merely two among a myriad of other influences that are present among growing churches, including (most notably) higher birth rates, higher youth retention, and a focus on evangelistic efforts.