Significant growth in smaller, more ethnically diverse churches – survey

Report suggests health of Christianity in Ireland more robust than generally believed

The survey’s findings contrast with the accepted picture of gradual decline and aging congregations reported by the older, more traditional churches. Photograph: iStock

The survey’s findings contrast with the accepted picture of gradual decline and aging congregations reported by the older, more traditional churches. Photograph: iStock

 

A new survey has identified more than 500 non-mainstream churches across Ireland. Of those, 58 per cent have grown in size over the last five years while 88 per cent expect to see further growth over the next five years.

It has also found that 46 per cent of these non-mainstream church members are under 30 years of age while 75 per cent under 50. The majority meet an average of five times a week while all place a strong emphasis on working within their community.

The survey by Evangelical Alliance Ireland (EAI), an umbrella body for the non-mainstream churches, was conducted between December 2016 and October 2017 and will be published on Friday next.

Traditionally, discussion of Christianity in Ireland is concentrated on the four main churches; the Roman Catholic, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Methodist Church in Ireland. These are not included in the EAI survey.

Aging congregations

Its findings contrast with the accepted picture of gradual decline and aging congregations reported by the older, more traditional churches, suggesting the health of Christianity in Ireland may be more robust than is generally believed, albeit on smaller scale than heretofore.

The evangelical churches in Ireland are also younger and more ethnically diverse than the mainsteam churches, with 56.8 per cent of the evangelical churches less than 15 years old, while 56.4 per cent described themselves as ethnically mixed with 18.8 per cent predominantly African.

Just 21.4 per cent described themselves as predominantly Irish.

Their average size is small by comparison with the four main churches. Evangelical churches averaged membership of between 41 and 60 people, with 75.2 per cent having fewer than 100 members.

Non-denominational

Most, 48.6 per cent, identified themselves as non-denominational or independent, followed by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) at 23.85 per cent, the Baptist churches at 8.26 per cent, and Assemblies of God (renamed as Christian Churches Ireland) at between 8 and 7.34 per cent.

Of the 504 evangelical churches the survey found in the Republic, the largest concentration was in Dublin city and county where there are 141, or 28 per cent of the total number of churches there.

Outside of the Dublin area, the next highest density of such churches was to be found in Co Cork with 45, or 8.9 per cent of the total, followed by Kildare (33), Galway (27) and Louth (24).

For the survey, 448 churches were contacted with valid responses from 118, giving a response rate of 26.3 per cent of those contacted or 23.41 per cent of total active churches.