ATTENDANCE & A map showing the number of #megachurches in each region of the US.

The Hartford Institute for Church Research, Hartford Seminary

CHURCH HEALTH & The Big Get Bigger While the Small Get Smaller

by Aaron Earls, Christianity Today, 3/7/19.

…Growth is not absent from American churches,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But rapid growth through conversions is uncommon.”

The research gives a clear picture of the state of Protestant churches in America today.

  • Most have fewer than 100 people attending services each Sunday (57%),
  • including 21 percent who average fewer than 50.
  • Around 1 in 10 churches (11%) average 250 or more for their worship services.

Three in five (61%) pastors say their churches faced a decline in worship attendance or growth of 5 percent or less in the last three years. Almost half (46%) say their giving decreased or stayed the same from 2017 to 2018.

More than 2 in 5 churches (44%) only have one or fewer full-time staff members. Close to 9 in 10 pastors (87%) say their church had the same or fewer number of full-time staff in 2018 as they had in 2017, including 7 percent who cut staff.

In 2018, few churches added new multi-site campuses (3%) or were involved in some form of planting a new church (32%). Sixty-eight percent say they had no involvement in church planting. Around 1 in 10 (12%) say they were directly or substantially involved in opening a new church in 2018, including 7 percent who were a primary financial sponsor or provided ongoing financial support to a church plant.

“The primary purpose of this study was to obtain a set of objective measures on churches’ reproduction and multiplication behaviors today as well as to understand their core context of growth,” said Todd Wilson, chief executive officer of Exponential. “By combining these measures, we can help churches think about multiplication.”

Declining, plateaued, or growing?

Twenty-eight percent of Protestant pastors say their church has seen worship service attendance shrink by 6 percent or more compared to three years ago.

Another 33 percent say their church has remained within 5 percent, while 39 percent say their congregation has grown by at least 6 percent since the first quarter of 2016.

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SUB-CONGREGATIONS & How Megachurches Are Going Small … and Why

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/29/16.

Why Megachurches Go Small

Larger churches often recognize what small churches might miss—there are advantages to being little. Through small groups, multisite campuses, and now microsites, those megachurches are attempting to continue their growth while retaining small-church benefits.

“Churches are taking advantage of Dunbar’s number,” says Bob Whitesel, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and church growth expert. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, found humans can comfortably maintain only around 150 stable relationships. Beyond that, says Whitesel, “relationships don’t seem to have much depth.”

This is why he believes many churches stall around this plateau. “Once it gets bigger than that, people stop inviting others because they no longer know everyone else at church,” he says.

It’s incumbent on large church leaders to capitalize on smaller groups that organically emerge in the church. Whitesel calls these “sub-congregations,” and they mirror other numbers Dunbar found in his research. Groups of 50 can unite around a task, such as the music ministry or preschool volunteers. Small group gatherings of 15 have the feel of an extended family, and groups of five are intimate connections.

These numbers have been seen not only in sociological research but also in church history, Whitesel says. “In the Wesleyan revivals, every leader had to be involved in what they called ‘Band Meetings’ of five individuals. Larger groups of 15 were called ‘Class Meetings.’”

With this sociological and historical support, church consulting experts identify at least four areas that can be more easily developed in smaller churches…

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MEGACHURCH & How U.S.-style megachurches are taking over the world, in 5 maps

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: This research by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and Leadership Network points out that megachurches are internationally comprised of lower socio-economic congregants, while in No. America they are reaching mostly an upper socio-economic strata. This has implications for the goals and economies of megacongregations. For instance, is there greater responsibility put upon these churches and for what missional end? Read this article before you craft your answer.

By Rick Noack and Lazaro Gamio, The Washington Post, 7/24/15.


… while the United States may have started the trend, the future of megachurches may lie in the rest of the world.

Based on data from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and from the Christian nonprofit organization Leadership Network, WorldViews visualized this global and diverse movement. We used the most common definition of megachurches, which describes them as having “2,000 or more persons in attendance at weekly worship, a charismatic, authoritative senior minister, a 7 day a week community,” and other features which you can find in detail here.

Why global megachurches are bigger than U.S. megachurches

Despite American roots that reach back to the 19th century, megachurches abroad now have a higher average attendance, even though the vast majority of megachurches are still in the United States. While there are 230 to 500 such churches elsewhere in the world, the Hartford Institute estimates that there are about three times more megachurches in the United States.

In the United States, the median weekly attendance is about 2,750, while the median weekly in world megachurches is nearly 6,000. One factor that could explain the larger sizes on other continents is a lack of alternatives for believers.

“Outside the United States, it takes a large amount of charisma and capital to create a megachurch,” said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute. In the United States, however, competition among megachurches is fierce because it is easier to establish such communities. “It is harder to be massive here in U.S.,” Thumma added, citing zoning laws, safety inspections, construction and property costs.

Nevertheless, he believes that smaller megachurches do not lag behind in an international comparison. “I was just at four megachurches within a few miles of each other in Atlanta, and each of these cater to a slightly different audience,” Thumma said.

The differences between U.S. and global megachurches can even be noticed on satellite images. Abroad, megachurches are often constructed in the centers of cities, where they are accessed by foot, subway, bus or cab. In the United States, community members usually access the churches by car. To provide the necessary parking lots, U.S. megachurches are often in suburban areas.


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MEGACHURCH & Demographics of the Typical Mega-congregation

by Morgan Lee, How 727 Megachurches Spend Their Money, Christianity Today, 11/12/14.

According to the 2014 edition of the Large Church Salary Report

  • the typical large American church (1,000 to 7,000 members)
  • was founded in 1977,
  • seats 800 worshipers,
  • and offers five weekly services at two campuses.
  • The church’s 52-year-old senior pastor was hired in 2005,
  • it employs 25 staff members,
  • and attendance has been recently growing 7 percent per year.

And check out the Leadership Network’s research on megachurches here …

MEGACHURCH & An Executive Summary of “Deep & Wide” by Andy Stanley

by Matt McCarrick (Missional Coach), 10/21/15, an Executive Summary of Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley.

This is the story of Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, located twenty miles north of Atlanta. Founding pastor, Andy Stanley, shares the story of Northpoint Community Church and outlines the church’s ministry philosophy for other churches and leaders to evaluate and follow. Deep & Wide offers a balanced mix of narrative story, ministry philosophy, and practical advice for the local church.

For the first third of the book (Sections One and Two), Stanley shares the story and origins of Northpoint Community Church (Northpoint). Beginning in the days when he was a youth pastor for his well-known father, Charles, Stanley shares specific details of the situations and events that occurred leading to the founding of Northpoint. Surprising, Stanley (with the permission of his father), shares the story of his parents’ divorce that drove a temporary wedge between he and his father. Yet, God used this to begin Northpoint and bring healing to a wounded pastor.

Section Three of Deep & Wide is entitled “Going Deep.” In these chapters, Stanley outlines the approach Northpoint takes regarding spiritual formation. Northpoint seeks to engage with people in five distinct areas to promote spiritual formation: practical teaching, private disciplines, personal ministry, providential relationships, and pivotal circumstances. Over the next several chapters, Stanley outlines the philosophies of each of these areas and offers practical advice in sections titled, “Back at the Church.” Some suggestions include: a call to action at the end of every sermon, getting people involved in volunteer ministry quickly, and creating environments that foster meaningful relationships. One unique view of Northpoint is their closed Community Groups. Northpoint’s structure is to close a group to visitors once the group launches. The group then stays together for two years. Stanley believes this helps to increase the relationship building within the group structure as compared to open groups that change frequently.

Section Four is entitled “Going Wide” and discusses Northpoint’s ministry philosophy on outreach and evangelism. One key philosophy of Northpoint is to create “irresistible environments.” A key focus of Northpoint is reaching out to people that do not attend church. Stanley and Northpoint have adopted an attractional style of ministry. Northpoint evaluates the setting, the presentation, and the content being offered, in their words. Stanley firmly believes in practical preaching that offers Biblical teaching to believers and practical life advice to newcomers. Section Four ends with several templates Northpoint uses to create a service, including welcome, their approach to music, and preaching guidelines from Stanley.

Section Five is dedicated to taking the principles and philosophies Stanley outlined in the first four sections and making them practical for the local church to implement. Stanley focuses heavily on the differences between the Mission of the Church and models churches can use to reach the mission. He is open in the fact that Northpoint’s methods are just one method and discourages churches from blindly adopting their methods without due diligence. Stanley walks through a process from mission to vision to model to programming.

Deep & Wide was an interesting autobiographical case study of one of the largest churches in the country. While Northpoint has experienced tremendous success, it is difficult to connect with a church using the attractional method that runs in the tens of thousands each weekend. This sets an unrealistic goal for many churches, although it is clear Stanley is not trying to have churches match their size. Stanley offers practical advice on what can work in the local church in modern America. He is thoughtful and strategic. Therefore, Deep & Wide can be a valuable resource for church leaders who connect with Northpoint’s ministry philosophy.

LEARNING ORGANIZATIONS & It’s not the size of a megachurch that matters, but how quickly it learns.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Formerly it was how big you are. But for today’s organizations it is how fast you “learn.” See this Harvard Business Review article that reminds us it’s not the scalability of mega-churches, but rather the ability of organizations to learn and innovate as conditions change that make healthy organizations.

The New Organization Model: Learning at Scale

by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, MARCH 11, 2009.

In recent posts we’ve described a massive institutional transformation that will occur as part of the big shift: the move from institutions designed for scalable efficiency to institutions designed for scalable learning. The core questions we all need to address are: who will drive this transformation? Who will be the agents of change? Will it be institutional leaders from above or individuals from below and from the outside of our current institutions?

Used to be institutional leaders were the only ones who could change institutions. Why? Because, in an era of scalable efficiency, both work and consumption had to be standardized. It was impossible to get the necessary scale effects otherwise. Standardizing them required a top-down approach. Strong institutional leaders were necessary to mold individuals into two primary roles: customers that consumed products pushed to them on fixed schedules and employees who performed repetitive tasks from nine to five.

Now we have a new infrastructure, a digital infrastructure creating near-constant disruption. By freeing people to interact and collaborate with others outside of traditional hierarchical organizations, by reducing information asymmetries between producers of goods and services and those who buy them, by democratizing control over communications and media–in these and other ways our digital infrastructure is granting new autonomy and freedom to individuals, both as consumers and as employees. (For more about this see The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler.) As a result, individuals wield new influence with and power over the institutions with which they interrelate.

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