Baylor’s research team uncovered this about “scattered” vs. “gathered” ministry efforts:
No one has ever studied this growing debate over “scattered” vs. “gathered” churches. ISR researchers found that the “scattered” church – religious activities not affiliated with or sponsored by a congregation – is quite large, but they also found that the “scattered” activities are not a substitute for participation in the “gathered” church.
“One of the things that you hear a lot of is that people are growing dissatisfied with organized religion, and because of this dissatisfaction, they don’t participate in religious activities,” said Byron Johnson, professor of sociology at Baylor and co-director of the ISR. “There’s some concern that people are just staying in church and not getting out, but what we found that people who do these outreach ministries all operate from the base of some organized church that they’re involved in. They’re really not out there frustrated with the organized church doing these other kinds of ministries and outreach that they have no church home of their own because they’re so dissatisfied. It’s not true.”
The survey found that 14 percent of American adults – or about 31 million people – take part in a community prayer group, 9 percent in a Bible study group and 12 percent in faith-based programs not affiliated with or sponsored by a congregation. Of those, 80 percent attend their regular church frequently. These “scattered” activities, such as prayer and Bible study groups, actually strengthen the “gathered” church.
For “gathered” churches, the primary issue is whether or not congregations tend to be open or closed social networks and whether this influences their capacity for outreach. As the researchers found with megachurches, belonging to a congregation that consists largely of close friendships does not turn members inward. In fact, members of the “gathered” church witness most often to strangers and are most likely to do volunteer work in their communities. The survey confirmed that “scattered” church activities benefit those receiving the outreach, while encouraging and strengthening the commitment of those providing the outreach in the “gathered” church.