Did Growth Slow Because Our Churches Aged?
There is little in the statistics to lead one to the conclusion that churches becoming too large factored into the pre-2003 slowdown in growth.  Perhaps, then, the aging of our churches was a factor?  After all, older churches almost always grow more slowly than younger ones.  Indeed, the average age of our churches did rise as our overall growth rate declined.
The above chart does not mean that 1-2 year old churches in 1995 experienced slower growth by 2002, when they would have been 8-9 years old.  It compares the growth of all 1-2 year old churches in 1995 with the growth of all 1-2 year old churches in 2002, all 2-3 year old churches in 1995 with all 2-3 year old churches in 2002, etc.  In every case, the age of the church seems far less a factor than something that effected all churches to almost the same degree over the period 1995-2002.

This is analogous to a situation in which children of all ages in a given community experience a decrease in average growth: More is at work than the expected slowdown in growth that comes with age; there is likely a common external factor effecting all age groups.

These two analyses do not to provide a conclusive answer, but they do demonstrate statistically that 1) the 2003 membership losses were "in the works" for sometime prior to 2003; 2) the trend to slower growth was not due to increased church size, and 3) the trend to slower growth was not due to churches getting older, as churches of all ages experienced similar declines over the period leading up to 2003. 

Against a backdrop of discouraging news, this finding is encouraging.  After all, no one wants churches to say small forever, and unless a church dies it becomes older.  It is good news that the decline in growth was demonstrably not due primarily to our churches getting larger or older.


In other words, the growth rate of all five-year-old churches in 1995 was much higher than that of all five-year-old churches in 2002.  Among churches of almost every age, the difference in average growth between 1995 and 2002 is about 20%.
In fact, churches of the same age in the ICOC experienced declines in growth rates in remarkably the same way from 1994 to 2002.  We compared the growth of churches of a particular age in each year from 1994 to 2002.  Overall all younger churches grew faster than older churches, as we would expect.  Contrary to expectations, though, churches of all ages experienced growth declines to almost exactly the same degree.
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