GROWTH BY TRANSFER & Donald McGavran’s Warning About the Most Popular Church Growth

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  Recent LifeWay and US Census Bureau studies indicate that “transfer growth” is the dominant growth mechanism in North American churches.

Donald McGavran, founder of the Church Growth Movement, warned, “By transfer growth is meant the increase of certain congregations at the expense of others… But transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.”[i]

Most evangelicals have looked for a new church in their life. Evangelicals (67 percent) are most likely to have looked for a new church at some point in their lives. Catholics (41 percent) and the “nones”—the religiously unaffiliated—(29 percent) are least likely. (

[i] Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 72.

CHURCH GROWTH & Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving say researchers.

A Canadian study found that conservative churches are still growing, while less orthodox congregations dwindle away.

By David Haskell, The Washington Post, 1/4/17. David Millard Haskell is a professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University.

…Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research.

We also found that for all measures, growing church clergy members were most conservative theologically, followed by their congregants, who were themselves followed by the congregants of the declining churches and then the declining church clergy members. In other words, growing church clergy members are the most theologically conservative, while declining church clergy members are the least. Their congregations meet more in the middle.

Read more at …

DENOMINATIONS & What denominations are gaining members and what denominations are losing members?

A: Mainline Protestant denominations continued to decline, according to the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ, all reported decreases in membership in 2011. For several years now, the Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative evangelical denomination, also showed a decrease.  The Roman Catholic Church also reported a decrease of less than 1 percent.

The growing denominations in 2011 were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Assembles of God and several other Pentecostal groups; each reported a 2 percent growth.

Sociologists have also found that larger evangelical Protestant churches appear to be growing, while smaller churches posted smaller growth.  Based on data from the Faith Communities Today survey, evangelical churches with more than 1,000 people posted the largest gains over the past five years: 83 percent.
Want to know more? Go to the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. The Yearbook costs $55 and may be ordered at:

Check out the Faith Communities Today surveys of congregations,  You might also want to read How Strong is Denominational Identity?


Number of Regularly Participating Adults

% of Congregations Growing by 5% Or More From 1995 to 2000

1 thru 49


50 thru 99


100 thru 149


150 thru 349


350 thru 999


1000 or More



Number of Regularly Participating Adults

% of Congregations Growing by 5% Or More From 1995 to 2000

1 thru 49


50 thru 99


100 thru 149


150 thru 349


350 thru 999


1000 or More


* Does not include historic black denominations

denominational change

denominational membership trends

The Hartford Institute for Church Research, retrieved from, 11/9/16.

MEMBERSHIP & The Strict Church Theory: Why Strict Churches Grow Faster #LaurenceIannaccone #PennStateUniv

bpc_icon_theory.jpg Strict Church Theory


Strict churches are stronger because they reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. The theory predicts that strict churches will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment while lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit very low levels of commitment. This theory builds off of rational choice assumptions and is compatible with the religious economies perspective.


Iannaccone, Laurence. 1994. “Why Strict Churches are Strong.” The American Journal of Sociology. 99(5): 1180-1211.

Kelley, Dean. (1972) 1986. Why Conservative Churches are Growing.Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

by The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA),

Department of Sociology
The Pennsylvania State University
211 Oswald Tower
University Park, PA 16802-6207

Read more at …

More Theories

Learn about other theories of religion:
arrow.jpgChurch/Sect Cycle
arrow.jpgCivilization Theory
arrow.jpgCognitive Theories
arrow.jpgConversion Theory
arrow.jpgCyclical Theory
arrow.jpgDemographic Transition Theory
arrow.jpgModernization Theory
arrow.jpgRational Choice/Religious Economies
arrow.jpgSocial Network Theory
arrow.jpgSub-Cultural Identity Theory of Persistence and Strength

WESLEYAN CHURCH & 10 Years of Church Growth in 3 Graphs

Conversions, Baptisms, and Attendance from ’05-’15. Church Fitness is a Missional Priority for The Welseyan Church as seen in 3 charts. #madenew

Retrieved from

MULTIPLICATION & 7 Statistics That Predict Church Growth #HartfordInstitute

By Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/21/16.

Analysis of the American Congregations 2015 study finds seven statistics played a role in which churches experienced significant growth since 2010.

1. Growing location — The old real estate adage applies to churches. Growth is connected to “location, location, location.”

More than half (59 percent) of churches in a new suburb grew at least 2 percent in the past five years. Those in other locations were less likely to experience similar growth—only 44 percent grew at that rate.

2. Younger congregation — Churches whose membership was at least a third senior adults were less likely to grow than other churches.

Only 36 percent of churches heavily attended by senior citizens grew 2 percent or more in the last five years. Almost half (48 percent) of churches where seniors were less than one-third grew.

3. Innovative worship — Congregations who describe their worship service as “very innovative” are almost 10 percent more likely to grow than others.

Less than 44 percent of churches that say they have little to some innovation in worship grew, while more than 53 percent of churches with very innovative worship grew.

4. Lack of serious conflict — Fighting churches are not growing churches. Serious conflict stunts growth.

For churches that maintained relative calm—no serious conflict in the past five years—more than half grew. Only 29 percent of churches with serious conflict did the same.

5. Involved church members — Simply put, the more laity is involved in recruiting new people the more likely a church will grow.

How likely is it that a church grew? For those whose laity was …

  • Not at all involved: 35 percent
  • Involved a little or some: 45 percent
  • Involved quite a bit: 63 percent
  • Involvement a lot: 90 percent

6. Unique identity — If churches worked to discover and present to their community what makes them different from other area churches, they are more likely to grow.

Almost 58 percent of churches who distinguished themselves from other congregations grew, compared to 43 percent of churches who showed little to no difference.

7. Specialized program — Similarly, if churches establish a program as a congregational specialty, they are more likely to grow.

Close to 52 percent of churches that have at least one specialty grew, while less than 42 percent of congregations who claimed no specialty did the same.

These seven statistics from the American Congregations 2015 study give a picture of the churches bucking the trend of decline across U.S. churches.

Read more at …

Hashtags: #StLiz #StLizTX  #Renovate16 #StMarksTX

CHURCH GROWTH & A Review of Carey Nieuwhof’s “7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow “

by Cheri Wellman, Missional Coach candidate, 3/15/16.

An executive summary of Carey Nieuwhof’s Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, (Cumming, GA: The reThink Group, 2015).

Nieuwhof addresses potential reasons why local churches aren’t growing and the root of many of his answers are found in the seismic cultural shift happening specifically in the North America although many of these shifts are also happening globally. In answering the primary question of why we are not growing faster, he challenges the perceptions of local church pastors and leaders of existing church health, what keeps high capacity leaders engaged, reasons young adults are leaving the church, cultural trends, and actual willingness to change. The thread that is consistent from chapter to chapter in this book is the focus to continue to be missional. As followers of Christ, as disciples we are all called to be missional (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts1:8) and I find that Nieuwhof approaches this concept in a variety of ways. Read this book and read it with a group of others. Digest it, discuss it and then do it!

It is important that Nieuwhof begins by addressing practical and simple reasons churches aren’t growing and some offerings at to what are significant shifts that can be made to change that. Again, the theme throughout the book is the significance of focusing on the mission. Focusing on the mission of Christ’s church puts things into its proper place and priority. It’s about the mission. Focus on quality not quantity. Don’t lose the mission. The mission is to lead people into a relationship Jesus not to fill the seats. The plan or method are not sacred; the mission is sacred.   Focus on your mission because that is your purpose; it is the why we do what we do. Innovate around the mission. When we think this way we focus on sending people out to accomplish the mission not on how many are simply attending on a Sunday morning. Healthy things grow. He reminds us that it is our lean toward selfishness both individually and corporately. But this is in opposition to be missional. Missional keeps the mission of Christ as the focus and makes space for the uniqueness of various cultures. Missional requires us to learn and adjust to others for the mission’s sake. This is what I found at the heart of this book. Missional requires us to know and love others including others different than us.

There are so many great points made in this book; points that I wish every church leader would not only read, but understand and apply. Things are different than they were in the past and as a result we as church leaders need to shift how we view them. One example is the shift in meaning of committed church attenders. The committed church attender is attending less often. Understanding the reasons could allow the church leaders (including pastors) to be less judgmental and critical and in turn realize that attendance does not equate to commitment, passion or spiritual growth. A better measurement is engagement in the mission. Mere attendance is less a measure of spiritual maturity than missional ministry engagement. Nieuwhof proposes that it is the role of the church leaders to adjust their responses toward infrequent attenders and the unchurched if the church is going to accomplish the mission we must adjust to the culture which begins with understanding the culture and changing our response to it by adjusting our methods. Unhealthy leaders will be challenged to love others and focus on the missional requirement to adjust method to accomplish the mission.

Nieuwhof addresses issues with high capacity leaders and young adults leaving the church and then he makes recommendations as to how to address the issues he points out. For example, high capacity leaders leave if the leaders are not healthy. We must equip and coach and then give high capacity leaders real challenges and let them run with what we give them. The trend of youth and young adults leaving the church is not an irreversible. As church leaders we have to acknowledge the differences in their generational/cultural preferences and leans and make adjustments to methods in order to continue to accomplish the mission and make room for them to also join us in the mission. They need space to wrestle with the tough questions in an a safe and loving environment. They want their lives to make a difference. The church is the God created group designed to make the most meaningful and significant impact. Coupling the mission of the church with the young adult’s desire for their lives to matter creates a huge potential for revival.

“As we got healthier inwardly we grew outwardly” (p.20). “Mission-driven, mission-focused, and relationally rich churches will draw in people longing for something bigger and more significant than themselves” (p. 121). All this is great to read and even believe to be true, but if in the end the willingness to actually implement change does not exist then the mission will not be accomplished. Change is difficult but worth it if we truly desire to impact the world with the hope and healing of Jesus for Kingdom’s sake.

Each year my Global Outreach Team for the East Michigan District of The Wesleyan Church purchases one book for each of the churches in our district in effort to continually equip and encourage our local churches to think and act with the mission in mind. This year, Lasting Impact will be the book that we will purchase. I believe that if we keep our focus on the mission as the why, so many of the other concerns and issues the local church struggles with would dissolve. It would require a willingness to change, a willingness to think, care, and love of others, and willingness to set aside ourselves for the mission.