This week I’d like to focus on a couple things – the demographics and the faith practices of the United Church of Christ. To do this, I’d like to compare the UCC to a similarly sized denomination that is distinctly Evangelical in nature as well as distinctive altogether, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church of America (SDA). One reason why it is distinctive altogether is the fact that it’s Sabbath and day for Worship is Saturday. Another distinctive feature of the SDA is that most of its adherents practice vegetarianism.
According to the 2015 American Religious Landscape Survey, the SDA, along with non-denominationalists and Pentecostals, were the only 3 Christian groups that saw growth between 2007 and 2014. So, the SDA is doing something right.
That said, juxtaposing the UCC next to the SDA helps us have a helpful frame of reference. This is, as mentioned especially so when UCC and SDA are similar in size.
I’d like to begin by considering the age range of the SDA
and UCC. SDA is in green and UCC in blue. The following date are from the 2015
Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Research Foundation.
Age distribution among Seventh-day Adventists and United Church of Christ
% who are ages
Generational cohorts among Seventh-day Adventists and United Church of Christ
% who are
The UCC is an aging denomination. The largest cohort is from the Baby-Boomer generation and ranges between 57 and 75 years-old. The SDA whose largest cohort is from Gen-X (ages 41-56 years-old). While both denominations are not seeing as many Millennials either join or remain as members, UCC struggles more. We see this in the data looking at retention rates, the rates at which denominations keep their young within the fold as they become adults.
SDA, here listed as Adventists, retain 51% of their young with 21% leaving for other Protestant denominations and 21% becoming unaffiliated when it comes to religious life. UCC, here listed as Congregationalists, retain 31% of its young with 33% leaving for other Protestant denominations and 28% leaving affiliation-based religious involvement.
The SDA is also much more diverse compared to the UCC:
Racial and Ethnic Composition among Seventh-day Adventists and United Church of Christ
% who identify as
of religion in one’s life among Seventh-day
Adventists and United
Church of Christ
% who say religion is…
Belief in God among Seventh-day Adventists and United Church of Christ
% who say they...
Frequency of prayer among Seventh-day Adventists and United Church of Christ
% who pray...Frequency of reading scripture among Seventh-day Adventists and United Church of Christ
% who read scripture…
Frequency of participation in prayer, scripture study, or religious education
groups among Seventh-day
Adventists and United
Church of Christ
% who attend prayer group…
Put frankly, religious faith touches the daily lives of SDA members more than it does UCC members. The higher levels of faith and practice among SDA members seems to correlate with a greater sense of spiritual peace and well-being among SDA members.
Frequency of feeling spiritual peace and well-being among Seventh-day Adventists and United Church of Christ
Another consideration is SDA’s unique elements and practices. It shares with Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, all religious groups experiencing growth in the U.S., two things – non-Sunday gatherings for worship and dietary restrictions. Could key uniqueness in approach (e.g., Sabbath on Saturday or Friday prayer) and standard practices among the faithful (e.g., vegetarianism or kosher rules) correlate to denominational growth? Does this kind of buy-in translate into not only growth but retention? Maybe so.
What is clear to me is this: religious groups that have high levels of attendance, participation, and/or engagement in spiritual practices among the faithful are far more likely to experience growth.