Five Surprising Discoveries about Growing Churches
Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Do you want the bad news first or the good news first?

I always ask for the bad news first. I can’t enjoy the good news knowing that a report of bad news looms in the next few statements.

So I gave you some bad news in my Monday post. I shared with you the statistical reality of the death spiral. Once a church declines below 100 in average worship attendance, its rate of decline accelerates. In other words, the church declines faster and faster.

In this article, I share some good news. The news is about the growing churches in our study. As a review, you can look at the details of our research at my blog post on June 28, 2017. Simply stated, we conducted a random sample of 1,000 churches with data from 2013 and 2016. The margin of error of the research is +/- 3.1 percent. It’s an accurate study. It’s a very accurate study.

So let’s take a few moments and look at the churches whose average worship attendance grew from 2013 to 2016. Here are five of the surprising discoveries from this research:

1. Over one-third of the churches are growing. The conventional wisdom says 80 percent of churches are declining or plateaued. Our research shows that number to either be a myth or no longer relevant. Among the 1,000 churches we randomly selected, “only” 65 percent are declining or plateaued. In other words, 35 percent are growing.

2. If a church is growing, it is highly likely to be growing faster than the community in which it is located. In fact, 91 percent of the growing churches are outpacing the growth of the community. That is a huge number! And it’s really good news if we can move our churches from decline to growth.

3. There is a good representation of churches that are both growing and are evangelistically effective. Granted, the percentage of the total churches in this category is low, but we have sufficient numbers to conduct deep dive research on many of the churches individually. This information may prove to be some of the most relevant and powerful, especially from the perspective of evangelism renewal in our churches.

4. Growth and evangelistic effectiveness are not limited to any one geographic area. To the contrary, we saw a very low correlation between the geographic region and evangelistic effectiveness. I see such information as very hopeful, because it tells us that demographics and geographic location are not usually limitations for churches. I will expand upon this discovery in a future post in a few days.

5. We can no longer use membership in our metrics for churches. It does little good to use membership as a metric in most studies of large numbers of churches. Many churches have bloated membership rolls filled with missing and deceased members. Other churches don’t bother to even measure membership at all. This reality forces us to use worship attendance as our base metric. It is the most common and, usually, the most accurate metric churches keep.

As a final note in this post, I was really surprised by these summary metrics. I think you will be too.

  • 31.8 percent of churches are growing, and they are growing faster than their respective communities.
  • 3.0 percent of churches are growing, but not as fast as their respective communities.
  • 4.2 percent of churches are declining or plateaued, but they are not declining as rapidly as their respective communities.
  • 61.0 percent of churches are declining or plateaued, and they are declining more rapidly than their respective communities.

In my next post, I will look at the evangelistic metrics of our churches. Brace yourself for an abrupt dose of reality.

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on July 5. 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
Image courtesy Dave Lancaster, Freely Photos

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