By Kent Fillinger
This month, the focus is on large churches (average worship attendance of 500 to 999) and medium churches (250 to 499 weekly) from our annual church survey. If you missed the May issue on megachurches and emerging megachurches, you can read it online to get caught up. Next month, I’ll conclude this series with a report on small churches (averaging 100 to 249 weekly) and very small churches (fewer than 100) and share the first-ever recorded data on these two church sizes.
Here are some stats and stories that show the major themes that emerged for large and medium churches. The survey asked churches to report their best “wins” from 2017, and these provide the foundation for the key trends.
Structures and Spaces
The mantra of “If you build it, they will come” from the movie Field of Dreams seemed to be the mind-set for 22 large and medium churches. These churches were involved in some phase of building, construction, remodeling, and relocation in 2017.
For example, The Refinery Christian Church (Goodyear, Arizona) purchased property. Prescott (Arizona) Christian Church broke ground on a new building last year. And Hope City Church (Joplin, Missouri), the fastest-growing large church last year with a growth rate of 32.5 percent, went from being a portable church to having a permanent location. Likewise, the second-fastest-growing large church, The Crossing Church (Batavia, Ohio), also moved into its first permanent facility in 2017.
Sunbury (Ohio) Christian Church relocated from a 2-acre property to 11 acres on a major state route in December 2017, and their attendance has grown from 450 to 650 in the first few months.
Elm Street Christian Church (Olney, Illinois) completed its new worship center last year and reported, “Now either a new family joins the church or someone is baptized every week.”
Click here to access “The 2017 Charts: Large Churches and Medium Churches.
The second most popular theme last year involved church staffing. Sixteen churches noted that a new hire was a win for them. These new hires ran the gamut of roles: lead ministers, executive ministers, worship ministers, children’s ministers, youth ministers, and others. Two churches said they completed leadership transition plans.
Large churches spent slightly more of their general fund budgets on staff than medium churches did last year—47 percent compared to 46 percent, respectively.
Seven large and medium churches created a strategic plan in the past year. This included large churches like Christ’s Church of Flagstaff (in Arizona) and medium-size churches like Plum Creek Christian Church (Butler, Kentucky).
“A clarity of vision and mission has propelled us into 2018 with a renewed focus, unity, and direction,” reported Highland Church of Christ (Robinson, Illinois). We had gone through a couple of years of struggle in defining ourselves. . . . We are now a healthier staff and a healthier church, headed in the same direction together.”
Overall, 52 percent of large churches and 62 percent of medium churches said they either strongly agreed or agreed that a strategic plan guides their actions and decisions.
Under the theme of stewardship, three distinct focuses emerged: capital campaigns, debt reduction or elimination, and generosity initiatives.
Six churches started or completed capital campaigns in 2017, so I anticipate building projects will continue to be a primary theme in the years to come.
Tates Creek Christian Church (Lexington, Kentucky) and Valley Christian Church (Lakeville, Minnesota) were two of five churches that became debt-free last year. Overall, 22 percent of large churches and 34 percent of the medium churches reported being debt-free in 2017.
Generosity initiatives were hallmark events at several churches. For example, Crossway Christian Church (Nashua, New Hampshire) raised a Christmas offering of $50,000—over and above its normal giving—and donated the money to its local and global partners. A recovering addict shared his story one Sunday at Outlook Christian Church (McCordsville, Indiana), and the church collected a “second” offering of $12,000 for his ministry.
Capital City Christian Church (Frankfort, Kentucky) did a 90-day giving challenge and the response was “unbelievable,” according to the church. Total giving for the year exceeded projections by $230,000.
These large and medium churches were among those who served their local and global communities through a variety of creative outreach initiatives last year:
- White Oak Christian Church (Cincinnati) worked with and shared its building with one of the largest Bhutanese congregations in the United States.
- Journey Christian Church (Greeley, Colorado) partnered with another local church and the local school district to host a “Refugee Thanksgiving Meal” for newcomer families in their community; almost 700 refugees attended.
- Community Christian Fellowship (Siloam Springs, Arkansas) started a “bar” ministry called “On Tap” once a month in a local brewery.
- Timber Lake Christian Church (Moberly, Missouri) held a “Drive-through Bethlehem” for its community to tell the Christmas story through outdoor scenes. More than 2,300 attended.
- Elevation Christian Church (Aurora, Colorado) fed the less fortunate in their community through a free market.
Last year, eight large churches (9 percent of the total) and two medium churches (2 percent of the total) used a multisite ministry model. But these numbers are on the rise. Five large churches and four medium churches have definite plans to launch additional campuses in 2018.
Gateway Christian Church (St. Albans, West Virginia) bought and renovated a facility for a second campus in 2017. New Hope Christian Church (Marshalltown, Iowa) and Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, Tennessee) both developed a vision and plan to become multisite in the future.
Less than one-third of the large and medium churches surveyed (29 and 28 percent, respectively) used small groups as their primary means of adult discipleship. But five churches noted an increased emphasis on small-group discipleship last year.
Valley View Christian Church (Edgewood, New Mexico) moved to a small-group discipleship model last year and saw an increase from less than 10 percent of adults participating in groups to about 40 percent. And Wilkinson (Indiana) Church of Christ launched an all-church small-group campaign and more than doubled their small-group involvement.
Several churches had their best years ever. Here are some super statistics worth noting:
- Newberg (Oregon) Christian Church had record growth (9 percent), record giving, and a record number of first-time guests last year.
- Windsor Road Christian Church (Champaign, Illinois) had its largest attendance ever: 1,500 on Easter.
- The Carpenter’s Christian Church (Harrodsburg, Kentucky) baptized 70 people, which was a record.
- Community Christian Fellowship (Siloam Springs, Arkansas) had the most baptisms and largest giving to missions in its history.
- Lakepoint Church (Muskego, Wisconsin) and Poinciana Christian Church (Kissimmee, Florida) both were named “business partner of the year” by their local chambers of commerce.
While the numbers are worth noting and the stats are worth celebrating, the more important wins are the stories of the people behind the numbers. Central Christian Church (Portales, New Mexico) summed it up well: “Our biggest ‘wins’ were in the reconciliation of a nearly destroyed marriage, and when several men who had never accepted Christ (but their wives had) finally were baptized into Christ. And when alcoholics found sobriety after years of drunkenness. Our biggest ‘wins’ were in the lives of those attending.”
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.