Dispelling the 80 Percent Myth of Declining Churches
Buckle your seat belts.
Over the next several posts, I will be sharing with you the results of an incredible research project on 1,000 churches. At the risk of overstatement, I think this data may point us to some exciting and positive opportunities. Indeed, I hope to share a plan for the evangelistic renewal and growth of our churches in the weeks ahead.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Allow me to share, at the risk of boredom, the basis of this research:
- Our program randomly selected 1,000 churches with available data for 2013 and 2016.
- The strength of the study is its accuracy. The margin of error at the 95% percent confidence level is +/- 3.1%. If you’re not a numbers nerd, that means this data is incredibly accurate.
- The possible weakness of this study is that it only includes churches of my denomination. We took this path because we have a gold mine of data. I do believe, however, this data can be a good approximation of evangelical churches, and a rough approximation of all Protestant churches in North America.
The Research Says 80 Percent Is Not Correct
Have you ever heard, “80 percent of churches are either plateaued or declining”?
I have. It’s wrong.
Here are the results of our research. We used average worship attendance as our metric rather than church membership. Unfortunately, church membership is fast becoming a meaningless metric.
- 56 percent of churches are declining.
- 9 percent of churches are plateaued.
- 35 percent of churches are growing.
So here is the new and correct statement of reality: 65 percent of churches are declining or plateaued. There is a huge statistical difference between 80 percent, the myth, and 65 percent, the reality.
I loathe research projects that ultimately offer only statistics and not solutions. Over the next several weeks, I will be sharing with you some incredible and eye-opening research. But, ultimately, I will offer some solutions based on what God is doing in these growing and evangelistic churches compared to the declining churches.
Here are some areas I will cover in upcoming posts:
- The danger line in worship attendance that becomes a predictor for church death.
- The relationship between the growth of the community and the growth of a church.
- How some smaller churches are thriving in the shadow of megachurches.
- What the most effective evangelistic churches are doing differently.
- The relationship between small groups/Sunday school and the growth of a church.
My goal is ultimately to provide a clear path for evangelistic growth and renewal in our churches. We are learning so much from these churches and their leaders. I can’t wait to share more of our findings in future posts.
In the meantime, remember this basic fact: 65 percent of churches are plateaued or declining, not 80 percent.
And 35 percent of churches are growing.
It is my prayer that we will help you understand how your church can be in that latter group of churches.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on June 28. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer
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