By Jim Nieman
How do you explain your church’s tremendous growth in 2017?
That’s what we asked lead ministers of the fastest-growing churches in three attendance categories from Christian Standard’s annual survey of churches: churches of 1,000 or more (megachurches and emerging megachurches profiled in May), churches of 250 to 999 (large and medium churches—June), and churches 249 and fewer (small and very small churches—July).
All three churches have one thing in common—new facilities—but that wasn’t the only explanation for their growth.
We spoke with and/or emailed questions to:
- Aaron Brockett, lead pastor of Traders Point Christian Church (Whitestown, Indiana), which grew 29.5 percent to an average attendance of 7,623 in 2017
- Cody Walker of Hope City Church (Joplin, Missouri), which grew 32.5 percent to an average attendance of 742 in 2017
- Warren L. Whitaker, senior minister of Cornerstone Christian Church (Springfield, Kentucky), which grew 65.5 percent—from averaging 110 in 2016 to 182 in 2017
Here is what each church leader had to say.
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Aaron Brockett, lead pastor,
Traders Point Christian Church (Whitestown, Indiana)
Brockett allows that it’s unusual for a megachurch to grow almost 30 percent in a single year—especially one so “well-established” as Traders Point, which started in 1834 and is one of the older churches in our movement.
“There’s a certain element of it that I can’t explain,” Brockett said. “Call it the movement of God.”
But Brockett sees two practical things that have contributed to Traders Point’s amazing growth in the past decade—the first being a new church facility that was completed just before his arrival (he took over for Howard Brammer in 2007), and the second being the multisite campuses Traders Point has added over the past three years.
“We built a new facility about 10 years ago,” Brockett said. That church building is in Whitestown, northwest of Indianapolis—well outside the beltway—and an area that has been growing ever since. It was a wise decision to construct there, Brockett said, but “it made [Traders Point] a regional church” rather than “a neighborhood church.”
“People were driving long distances to come to our church,” he said. And while overall attendance has grown significantly—up from 1,600 when he arrived—the physical distance that some people were traveling each week was a barrier to growth among those folks. “They [the people who lived 20 or 30 or more minutes away] likely were not going to serve with us and they weren’t going to invite their friends.”
“We probably spent about four years just researching multisite,” Brockett said. “We took advice from Craig Groeschel and others who say don’t do it [add sites] until you have maximized your facility.”
When church leaders were finally ready to move forward with multisite, “We were primed and ready to do it.”
Brockett shared the “why” statement Traders Point developed for venturing into multisite in his September 2017 article “A Heart for Our City” in Christian Standard: “We believe discipleship works best when you can worship within a 20-minute drive from where you live.”
To that end, over the past three years, Traders Point has located campuses in three locations a significant distance from its original site (the one built 10 years ago), but only in areas from which it was already attracting a sizable number of attendees: Carmel and Avon, Indiana, and downtown Indianapolis.
By doing it this way, Traders Point’s campuses start with a base membership that already loves the church and is familiar with it from day one.
“We want our people to be on mission with us,” he said. And the people who are part of the original groups that start campuses do, indeed, see themselves as missionaries. They are much more inclined to invite their friends, neighbors, and coworkers who live in that area.
“Starting campuses has most definitely contributed to our numeric growth.”
Of the three campuses Traders Point has started, two are averaging in the 1,100 to 1,300 range, and one is averaging about 800.
“We’ve seeded those campuses with about 300 people,” Brockett said. And so there has been growth at the campus locations, “and more people have shown up [at our original site] to make up for the people who have left to be a part of the new campuses.”
Average attendance increased by 1,737 from 2016 to 2017.
But facilities are just one aspect of church growth. Brockett also credits the culture of Traders Point.
“We’re fighting for a healthy culture in our church,” he said. “We’re constantly looking at what we’re doing [and] gauging how people react to things.” There are many, many conversations to that end in all the various church settings.
As time has gone on, Traders Point has done more in-house hiring. Brockett told of a woman now on staff at Traders Point but who formerly was part of several start-ups in the business world.
“She said, ‘You guys operate just like a start-up, only a lot healthier,’” Brockett said.
“We’re constantly changing, trying to improve, trying to innovate. We tell our people what we’re trying to do and that serves to inspire them. People can sense that and pick up on it.”
Over the past two years or so, Traders Point has been in a “pause” mode with respect to new campuses.
“When we got to four locations, it became a lot more complicated,” Brockett said. “The experts are right about that.”
But now, the leaders and the church are preparing to move forward.
“We’re planning on two more multisite locations in 2019.”
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Cody Walker, lead pastor,
Hope City Church (Joplin, Missouri)
Hope City has seen fairly steady growth since opening in 2014, Walker said.
The church is located in one of our college towns—Joplin is home to Ozark Christian College and several parachurch ministries—but “our vision is to be a church for unchurched people, Walker said.
“This has been an anthem for us as a church that puts everyone at an equal place at the foot of the cross, with an equal need, and an equal chance to receive redemption through Jesus,” Walker said. “Most people feel judged at church. At Hope City, we stress that we are all in the same boat.”
Walker said the growth from 2016 to 2017—which saw average attendance rise from 560 to 742—is in part due to construction of a new facility.
“After being portable for three and one-half years, we were able to expand ministry by having a facility seven days a week,” Walker said. And that growth has continued into this year.
“We are now consistently averaging over 1,000 in our weekly worship gatherings,” he said. “We added a Thursday evening worship gathering that is the same worship and content of our Sunday gatherings.” The idea, he said, is that folks who will be working or traveling on the weekend can still engage in the life of the church by worshipping on Thursday.
“It also opens the door for someone who might be willing to try church on a Thursday night, but not [be willing to show up] on a Sunday morning,” he said.
Walker said the leaders have found that “most of the folks who walk through the doors at Hope City want to be connected to a church community where they can serve and be involved. They aren’t looking for a church community that ‘has it covered.’”
For most people, the “first step to getting connected is to get on a serving team.” And the beauty of that, Walker said, “is that this also serves as the first step toward authentic community and creating a place where people are known.”
During its first four years, Walker said, Hope City has found that “with continued growth comes continual problem solving.”
“We spend a great deal of time during the week removing barriers to growth. Some of those barriers are spiritual, but many of them are physical and relational.”
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Warren L. Whitaker, senior minister,
Cornerstone Christian Church (Springfield, Kentucky)
Cornerstone Christian Church moved into a larger worship space in 2016, but “personal connections” and prayer have played the key roles in the attendance surge, Whitaker said.
“We believe personal connection is the greatest factor in our growth,” Whitaker said. “Personal connections develop [into] real relationships and express the value God places on every person. These connections help prevent people from ‘sliding out the back door.’
“We try to take an approach of helping every person in our church become what God wants them to be. But, to do that, you have to really know someone.
“Being a small church, we have focused on truly being the family of God,” he said. “We encourage real relationships with God and his family.”
The church, located in a city of 3,100, grew an amazing 62.5 percent—from 110 in 2016 to 182 in 2017—after a concerted prayer program was started in the fall of 2015.
“The elders of Cornerstone committed to pray for the members and visitors individually, by name, every Sunday night,” Whitaker said. “We also made regular contact through letters, texts, and calls as a part of this prayer gathering.
“Our method was to utilize a prayer book every Sunday [morning] as part of our worship service,” he said. Booklets are passed down each row and people are asked to share their name, phone number, and any special prayer requests. Then, on Sunday night, the elders pray for these individuals. They also send encouraging text messages and make phone calls, increasing communication and offering more support.
The prayer books have the added benefit of helping to track attendance.
“We want to let people know they are valued as a part of our church family,” Whitaker said.
Communicating and showing support has a trickle-down effect, as members “reach out to co-workers and neighbors in the same way the church reaches out to them.”
“This process helped us be ready to love and connect with people when we moved into our new building.”
That move two years ago saw worship capacity increase from 120 to 180.
Of course, Whitaker said, “More space does not equal growth, but if people experience love they will share it with others and fill a space.”
Cornerstone is now expanding its children’s ministry area and is considering adding a second service to continue being able to accommodate growth.
“External changes are indicators of something happening inside, as well,” Whitaker said. “People will come to see what’s happening, but they stay because they feel the love of Christ.”
Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.