Sam Shoemaker asked, “Can your kind of church change your kind of world?”
What kind of church do you serve? Is yours an emerging church, a house church, a seeker-driven church, a seeker-sensitive church, a purpose-driven church, a cell church, a connecting church, a contemporary church, a traditional church, a growing church, a dying church, a multisite church, a polysite church, a postmodern church, a simple church, an externally focused church, a small church, an emerging megachurch, or a megachurch?
We label churches to describe their structure, style, or size, but Shoemaker’s question demands an answer regardless of the kind of church you serve.
IMPROVING YOUR HEALTH
Our focus is to profile the 113 megachurches and emerging megachurches to gain a glimpse of how God is using them to capture men’s hearts and to change their worlds. Our hope is that you will be encouraged, inspired, and challenged to do what you can to make your local church the best it can be for the glory of God and the good of the kingdom.
Not every church can or should be a megachurch, but all churches can learn from the experiences of megachurches to improve their health and increase their effectiveness.
“In 2007, there were 1,250 megachurches out of a total of 335,000 U.S. congregations of all religious traditions.”1 “Nearly 4.5 million people attend megachurches each week”2 and the number attending Christian churches/churches of Christ continues to increase with a combined 2007 megachurch and emerging megachurch weekly average attendance of 296,926 people, or 2,628 people per church.
In 2007, the 52 megachurches grew to an average size of 4,019, an increase of 4 percent over 2006. These 52 megachurches are 12 percent larger than the average U.S. megachurch, with an average attendance of 3,585. The 61 emerging megachurches maintained an average size of 1,441.
The 113 churches featured grew an average 3.2 percent in 2007, down from a 4.4 percent growth rate in 2006. The rate continued trending down from a peak growth rate of more than 10 percent in 2001; 2007 marks the lowest growth rate in a decade. Fifty-nine of the churches grew 1 percent or more in 2007, reflecting an 8 percent decrease in the number of growing churches.
By comparison, the 3.2 percent growth rate was more than double that of the Southern Baptists, whose worship attendance grew only 1.4 percent in 2006.3 The Lutherans (ELCA) have not seen a gain in membership since 1991, and the Missouri Synod reports that membership in 85 percent of their congregations has either hit a plateau or declined. Forty-one percent of Methodist churches did not receive one member by profession of faith in 2005.4
ENHANCING YOUR STRENGTHS
Recently much has been written about the declining attendance and diminishing influence of the American church. A new study shows “22 percent of Americans say they never go to church, the highest percentage ever recorded by the General Social Survey, conducted every two years by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago”—and that is up from 17 percent in 2004.5 “Most of the unchurched (86 percent) say they believe they can have a ‘good relationship with God’ without belonging to a church.”
A recent cover of Rev! magazine asks, “Is the
The article explained that the growth rate of evangelical churches began to slow in 2004, which mirrors our findings for the Christian churches/churches of Christ featured in this report.
To summarize, whether the actual U.S. weekly worship attendance figure is 17 percent or 40 percent, neither statistic should satisfy our souls.
A Leadership cartoon showed three guys huddled around a flip chart with the header “Growth Ideas”; the caption read, “Besides calling every Sunday ‘Easter,’ does anyone else have ideas for improving church attendance?”
While studying these 113 churches, several growth indicators surfaced that you want to unpack as you evaluate your present ministry, contemplate potential strategies, and finalize your vision for the future. Instead of trying to label every Sunday “Easter,” use these findings to spark honest conversations among your staff and leaders that will allow you to enhance your church’s strengths and generate a better future.
1Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 1.
2Thumma and Travis, 46.
3“2006 ACP: Growth seen in attendance, number of churches, but SBC baptisms down nearly 2 percent,” Facts & Trends, July/August 2007, 20.
4“The Living Church: Radically Renewed in Love,” Church Executive, February 2008, 8.
5“Many say they believe in God, not churches,” The Indianapolis Star, 13 January 2008, A6.
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