Thoughts on America’s Fastest-Growing Churches

Outreach Magazine has compiled it’s annual list of America’s 100 largest and fastest growing churches. In the next post, I’ll offers some comments on the largest churches and churches on both lists (largest and fastest). Here are some brief observations I made as I went through the report:

  • There is a correlation between pastoral tenure and church growth. The average tenure of the Senior Pastor in America’s Fastest growing churches is 14 years. One might assume that pastoral tenure and church size might go together–but not church growth rate. Churches that run through preachers quickly should note this.
  • There is some correlation between church planting and both size and speed of growth. Even more established churches like Saddleback, Willow Creek, Life Church, Woodlands Church, Fellowship Church, North Point, Christ’s Church of the Valley, and others have the original planter still at the helm. The new kids on the block are also almost completely church plants. They didn’t begin yesterday, but they were plants and the original planter is going the distance. Of course there are churches that haven’t been planted recently and have had multiple pastors over the last 30 years or so…just not many.
  • Warm weather is in! Among cooler climate states, only Richmond Outreach Center in Richmond, Virginia is among the 10 fastest growing by total numbers over the past year. This isn’t just a population shift thing (though I have no doubt that plays a part). It seems deeper than that. The states with the most fastest-growing churches in order are: Texas, California, Florida, Arizona and Georgia.
  • As much as I appreciate his work over the years, I wonder if Barna would like to reconsider his declaration of the imminent demise of the megachurch.
  • Non-denominational churches dwarf all other denominations on both the largest churches and fastest-growing churches list…nearly matching the number of all denominations put together. To be fair, many of the churches classified into denominations would also consider themselves to be non-denominational (Independent Christian Churches, for example).
  • Multi-site churches appear to be here to stay.
  • I’ve studied several of the churches on the fastest-growing list up close and know some of their leaders. Among the traits shared by the churches on the fastest growing list, I can only find two:  a “strong leader” leadership paradigm and a genuine commitment to evangelism.
What are your thoughts on the aforementioned observations? Anything surprise you? Do you think it’s wrong for churches to think much about these things? I personally don’t, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Also, thanks to Outreach Magazine (and Ed Stetzer) for compiling and publishing the information. You can purchase a copy of the report here.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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12 thoughts on “Thoughts on America’s Fastest-Growing Churches

  1. Huge churches have nothing on small family-oriented churches. Our “Sunday church” is a small commuter church in Uptown Houston. It’s been there for 45 years and attendance has never been over 300. Usually there are 180 at worship on Sunday. We love it.

    We tried attending a church with 10x the attendance, but were lost in the shuffle. Some lasting relationships have grown and I still meet with the men’s group there. After six months of regular attendance, it still never felt like “family”.

    While we strive to reach out to those around us and bring people to Christ daily, the actual “community” that exists only in small churches should never be overlooked.

  2. Interesting. While Eddie Gibbs’ book “Church Next” helped assassinate my infatuation with the mega-church, I have also began to back off of the idea that I find in some emergent conversations which portray the mega-church simply as the feeding of the consumer Christian’s appetite. Having said that, I do have questions about the purpose of multi-sight churches, especially where the two or more gathering sights exist in entirely different geographical locations. I haven’t studied any such church extensively, so I won’t make any harsh criticism but I do have questions. I guess time will tell whether the multi-sight phenomenon is a good or bad thing for Christianity.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex

  3. I think my concern still lies in whether mega-church growth is genuine evangelism growth, or consumer growth. If it’s the former, terrific! If it is the latter, I would still agree with Barna, because the farm system (smaller established churches) are drying up. The death rate of churches is still high, if the numbers I have seen are still reliable. Thus, a system that relies on pew/small group swapping across church boundaries will inevitably face growth problems, UNLESS genuine evangelism is a key component to their growth.

    • Dave, I think that often megachurches are labeled as “consumer growth” churches unjustly. The baptism rates of some of those churches is in the stratosphere. Central Christian Church in Las Vegas and Crossroad Christian Church have baptized more than 1,000 people the last two years…but because they are churches with some attractional pull, people assume they are just attracting other people’s members. This of course isn’t always true (but can be). I would also add that bloating off transfer growth is something the churches losing people should pay attention to–asking themselves hard questions rather than blaming the departing or the churches to which they are departing. I guess I would rather someone go to a place they can grow spiritually and engage than die slowly over time. So, I don’t view transfer growth as a bad thing…but you can’t live that way.

      • I get what you are saying. Thanks for the pushback. I’ll think about it some more. Im definitely not against mega-churches, but all of the numbers I’m seeing about growth and decline of churches in the U.S. aren’t adding up in my head. Have you come to any conclusion on the trends?

        I spent some time during my ministry sabbatical at CCV in Peoria, AZ (#10 on the list I think). It was a pretty incredible thing to soak up having just come from the organizational structure of a mid-sized, conservative, CoC. And, like you said, LOTS of baptisms.

        • Dave, numbers are really hard to pin down in any way. I’m sure there’s even some wiggle in the attendance numbers of these churches. With the naked eye, my own thought is that lots of little churches are struggling and shutting down. But, most of the time, those people don’t necessarily leave for megachurches. They want something that feels familiar. So, they either find something that matches in intimacy or “style.” I actually think there will be a great consolidation in churches of Christ. We’re going to see more mergers, and some church deaths that unfortunately, may not be replaced by new starts.

  4. Tim,
    Interesting observations. I always find it interesting that these are the churches that report. Think of dozens upon dozens of churches who fit in this category but could care less and even run from lists like this. Many of the NW Churches could care less about national lists but have been in the Mega Church size for years. They don’t want the attention, they don’t need the attention, they don’t find any strengthen in a national list/category/ranking. What’s interesting is that Churches in the NW are just making some real difference right now and numerous national leaders are visiting to learn from some of these guys, which is an interesting story in itself. Another interesting point is Catalyst had 5 Seattle Pastors speaking at Catalyst Atlanta this year, hmmm, there is something going on when that happens. I know of at least 25 Churches who should be in the Outreach list but again simply could care less. Hope this helps.

    • Wade,

      Some of the best kept secrets in Christendom are in the NW. No doubt. I’m not sure the churches that report care a ton either. Many are simply asked. The methodology seems sound to me. Church growth is far to vast and dynamic for anyone to nail 100%, but I feel comfortable with the lists and methods for the most part.