Monday, January 28, 2008

Causal dynamics of church composition

Last Wednesday I posted on the issue of selection and causation effects in general. Both Kent and Mat commented on the applicability of them to the church setting, so I thought I would spell it out here.

At any given time, who is in a given church congregation results from four separate causal dynamics.

1) Awareness of a church.
Who in the community even knows about the church? Presumably people have to know about a church before they can attend it, and maybe certain types of people are more likely to know about a church.

2) Selection into a church.
Once people know of the church, maybe certain types of people are more likely to attend it.

3) Change while attending.
Among those who attend a church, some people change in various ways. Presumably these changes are for the better. Maybe people change in a certain way or maybe certain people are likely to change.

4) Selection out of a church.
Not everyone stays in a church, and maybe certain types of people are more likely to leave.

Here's why this matters: When we look at a church at a given point in time, we see some distinctive population characteristics. E.g., maybe most the people in the church have a certain worship style or set of theological beliefs. Maybe they dress similarly or are of the same cultural background.

These characteristics might be influenced by some or all of the dynamics listed above. (I have to say "some" because not all can be expected to change during church going. E.g., going to church probably won't change your gender or age.)

For pastors to understand what's going on at their church, they should probably know something about how all four of these dynamics work in their church.
- who knows about them?
- who attends?
- how do people change?
- who leaves?

Of course knowledge can be done formally via surveys, it's not necessary. Just observing and trying to figure out each one will go a long way.

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