By Kent. E. Fillinger
Church Unique is the title of a great book released last year by Will Mancini, and it is also a good description of the 117 megachurches and emerging megachurches profiled in this special double issue. While there are significant trends and key stats that can be gleaned from studying these churches collectively, the strength is in the unique stories of the churches represented and how God is using each one to change people’s lives for Christ.
A unique vision is not limited to these 117 profiled churches; in reality, every church has a unique vision from God to discover and fulfill. Every church is a spiritual snowflake—no two are alike. As Mancini shares, “Local churches are unmistakably unique and incomparably different. God doesn’t mass-produce His church.”1
A major problem in today’s American church, however, is that leaders have settled for imitation rather than striving for innovation, and a “vision vacuum” has been created. Mancini says, “Leaders in the vortex of the vacuum clamor for the right tools, programs, and resources to propel their church forward in lieu of discovering better ways to direct leadership energy. The result is massive cloning and a glut of photocopied vision in the body of Christ.”2
That means a “copy and paste” vision is not advisable, because it overlooks the unique vision God has for your church. Nevertheless there are definitely lessons to be learned, ideas to be imported, and strategies to be shared from these megachurches and emerging megachurches for your unique ministry context.
But always remember this question from Church Unique as you look at what these churches are doing—and decide what it means to your congregation: “If you copy someone else’s vision, who will accomplish yours?”
Use these survey findings to spark conversations with your staff and elders. Together decide how you can add value to your church and ministry as you rediscover God’s unique vision for your church.
Though it would be engaging to share a short story from each church listed in this year’s report, space does not allow it. Therefore, our aim is to highlight two major themes from this year’s survey of the megachurches and emerging megachurches.
Growth and Recession
The total average weekend attendance for all of the churches listed (311,636 people) almost matches the population of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Overall, the total attendance increased 5 percent from 2007. Nine churches grew 15 percent or more last year, with The Crossing (Quincy, Illinois) leading the way with a 27 percent growth rate. Additionally, 10 new emerging megachurches joined the list in 2008 versus only one new church in 2007.
Conversely, 40 churches experienced a reduction in attendance, with an average decline of almost 6 percent per church. Also, four churches dipped below the 1,000 mark and fell off of the list in 2008.
The average worship attendance of churches averaging more than 1,000 for worship has been tracked since 1997. In the first four years reported, 85 percent of the churches listed then were growing numerically. But in the last four years, only 64 percent of the listed churches experienced positive growth.
Baptism—the Best Indicator of Church Growth
In 2008, a total of 21,384 people were baptized in these 117 churches, which is up 2,277 people, or 12 percent, from 2007. The average megachurch baptized 287 people and the average emerging megachurch baptized 94 people during the year. The average baptism ratio climbed from 6.4 baptisms per 100 people in attendance in 2007 to 6.9 last year. This means a church averaging 200 in worship and baptizing 14 people in a year is baptizing the same percentage of people as the megachurches and emerging megachurches surveyed.
Obviously, attendance and baptism figures do not tell the whole story, but they indicate the condition of the churches. As Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
1Will Mancini, Church Unique (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), 6.
Kent Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting (www.3strandsconsulting.com) and outreach minister with Connection Pointe Christian Church of Brownsburg, Indiana.