12 March 2005

Community Demographics and Church Growth in Shreveport and Bossier City

Three recent news stories have popped up in the local media recently that are relevant to congregational growth strategies:
The common thread to these articles is a demographic trend that makes congregational growth very difficult ... we're demographically "swimming against the current" in a metaphorical sense.

Here is the description of the Presbyterian demographic problems in Bossier City:
Talks about merging the churches had been going on sporadically for about five years after several years of church members moving away or dying.

First Presbyterian, now 75 years old, experienced its peak in the 1950s and '60s when [Rev. Beth] Sentell said seven to 10 new families were joining the church each week. Population shifts, the casinos and children moving away led to the decline, she said.

"We depended on kids growing up to be Presbyterian, but that hasn't happened. We didn't emphasize it. We just thought it would happen."

John Knox Presbyterian began in 1951 as a mission church of First Presbyterian to reach out to the families of Barksdale Air Force Base. Changes on base during the late 1970s and '80s started the decline there.

"The church never changed the way it reaches out to the rest of the Bossier community," said the Rev. Dan Hignight.
And here's the Lutheran experience in Shreveport:
The one thing all of them agree on is a need for greater evangelism and outreach into the community. For too long, pastors said, the church relied on new Lutherans moving to town or being born. And when that slowed, so did church growth.
This demographic trend echos my concerns about demographic challenges facing our congregation and other Unitarian Universalist congregations that I've written about before:
For our denomination and our congregation, the increase in RE enrollment associated with the “Baby Boom” generation becoming parents is already going away. If we are viewing RE as the “engine” that drives congregational growth while families with children are a declining demographic group, this may not work for us. This is also compounded by the fact that we are an aging community. Our children want to move away when they grow up.


Prior to the 1960s and 1970s, there was a cultural expectation that one must be at church on Sunday mornings. This 1950s expectation died with the “Baby Boomer” generation and is not true today.

We can’t just say that we’re a “liberal alternative to Broadmoor Baptist” when sleeping in, golfing, etc are also acceptable Sunday Morning alternatives even in Shreveport.
So ... we need to address the "why should we go to church?" question when regular church attendance is declining and not the norm even in the southern "Bible Belt."

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