MEDIUM-SIZED CHURCHES: The Elephant in the Room

by Kent E. Fillinger

Describing the 66 medium-sized churches analyzed in this issue reminds me of the old fable of the blind men who each touched a different part of an elephant and then tried to describe what the animal looked like. The men disagree based on the part of the elephant they touched and their personal perspective. 

For the last four years, 3:STRANDS Consulting has partnered with Christian Standard to conduct in-depth research of Christian church/church of Christ megachurches and emerging megachurches. For the first time, the same research survey was completed by churches with average worship attendances of 500–999—what we are calling medium-sized churches.

Studying the results of our medium-sized church survey and comparing them with the findings from the megachurch and emerging megachurch report may produce responses similar to those of the blind men who examined different parts of the elephant. Your conclusions will be impacted by your personal perspective and the data you choose to accentuate.

These 183 churches—66 medium-sized and 117 megachurches and emerging megachurches (see April 19/26 issue of Christian Standard)—represent only 3 percent of the total number of Christian churches/churches of Christ, but they account for 33 percent of the total attendance. Here is an overview of the medium-sized churches as they compare to the megachurches and emerging megachurches.

 

Medium-sized churches grew faster. In 2008, the medium-sized churches grew an average of 6.2 percent—almost twice as fast as megachurches and almost three times faster than emerging megachurches.

The four fastest-growing medium-sized churches all grew more than 27 percent last year, which was a better growth rate than the fastest-growing megachurch or emerging megachurch. Whitewater Crossing Christian Church (Cleves, Ohio) was the fastest-growing church in 2008, increasing attendance by 66 percent.

Last year, 68 percent of the medium-sized churches we surveyed were growing, compared with 62 percent of megachurches and emerging megachurches. In 2007, the 3.6 percent growth rate of the medium-sized churches outpaced both the megachurches and emerging megachurches, as well.

 

Medium-sized churches’ Easter attendance increase was smaller. While the overall average growth rates for medium-sized churches was better each of the last two years, the medium-sized churches’ attendance increase for Easter was smaller.

The Easter attendance of medium-sized churches grew 1.5 times their average worship attendance, compared with megachurches and emerging megachurches, which grew 1.7 times their average attendance on Easter weekend.

The medium-sized churches would qualify as emerging megachurches on Easter with an average worship attendance of 1,078.

 

Medium-sized churches baptized fewer people. Even though medium-sized churches had better growth rates, they baptized one fewer person per 100 in attendance than the megachurches and emerging megachurches last year (5.9 baptisms per 100 versus 6.9 baptisms, respectively). The total number of baptisms in the medium-sized churches declined slightly from 2,640 in 2006 to 2,605 baptisms last year.

Twin Oaks Christian Church (Woodhaven, Michigan) led the way with 91 baptisms, while the average medium-sized church baptized 41 people last year. Westerville (Ohio) Christian Church had the best baptism ratio per 100 people in attendance; its two-year average of 13.9 is more than double the two-year average for medium-sized churches.

 

Medium-sized churches spent more money per baptism. In addition to baptizing fewer people than the megachurches and emerging megachurches, the medium-sized churches spent $4,600 more per baptism with an average investment of $28,934 per baptism. One medium-sized church spent $116,000 per baptism, while Twin Oaks Christian Church spent the least per baptism at $8,455.

 

Medium-sized churches were less likely to be multisite. Only five (8 percent) of the medium-sized churches surveyed were using a multisite ministry model, compared with 42 percent of megachurches and 11 percent of emerging megachurches. Three of the five churches launched their second campus last year while the other two churches went multisite in 2006.

The five medium-sized churches with a multisite model grew almost twice as fast as those without (11 percent versus 6 percent, respectively). The multisite churches also had a better baptism ratio with 7.4 baptisms per 100 in attendance compared with the medium-sized church average of 5.9 baptisms per 100.

An additional five medium-sized churches indicated definite plans to launch a multisite model sometime this year. Unfortunately, the growth rate of these five churches was less than 1 percent last year, and three of the five churches declined in attendance. This indicates the components needed to successfully launch a multisite ministry are more than likely not present in these churches.

Medium-sized churches were more likely to plant a church. Church planting appears to be a stronger value for medium-sized churches than for megachurches or emerging megachurches. In 2008, 39 percent of the medium-sized churches partnered to plant a church, compared to 32 percent of megachurches and emerging megachurches. Bridges Christian Church (Russell, Kentucky) was involved in four church plants last year.

Jim Tune planted Churchill Meadows Christian Church (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) in 2002 and he noted his church’s commitment to church planting instead of multisite ministry. Tune wrote this:

 


We have directly planted or partnered significantly in five church plants since 2004. Our growth to 500-plus in seven years is all the more significant when you figure we have released and commissioned numerous staff members and church members to provide the launch teams and core groups for these plants.

 

A multisite includes the attendance from all of its campuses in its attendance total. If you included the attendance of the churches we’ve planted, the number would top 1,000, not the 512 we reported.

 

Medium-sized church participants gave more money per person. As the economy continues to dominate national discussions, it is interesting to note that the average medium-sized church attendee gave more money per week ($27.25 per person) than those participating in a megachurch ($26.54) or emerging megachurch ($26.51).

 

Medium-sized church giving came from the offering plate and not from online gifts. Only 30 percent of medium-sized churches offered online giving last year, compared with 62 percent of megachurches and emerging megachurches.

 

In the survey, 51 of the medium-sized churches reported having an average debt of more than $2.2 million per church. The average church with debt would need 2.5 years (130 weeks) of general fund giving to pay the debt back in full, while the average megachurch or emerging megachurch would need only 116 weeks to eliminate their debt.

 

In spite of their debt load, 68 percent of the medium-sized churches reported they increased their overall ministry spending, while only 12 percent decreased ministry spending last year.

 

Medium-sized churches invested a greater percentage of general fund offerings to support outreach efforts. The average medium-sized church gave 17 percent to outreach compared with 14 percent for megachurches and emerging megachurches in 2008.

 

These survey statistics capture only part of the story for these churches. As you review these statistics and consider your church’s story in light of these numbers, remember the lives and human stories that each of these churches represents.

 



 

 


Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting (www.3strandsconsulting.com) in Indianapolis, Indiana.



 

 


 

This article is part of The 2008 Medium-Sized Church Report: Deluxe Edition, which is available as a downloadable resource at http://www.standardpub.com/detail.aspx?ID=4260 for only $14.99. Item number D021535910.

This report contains complete survey findings that will help you evaluate your ministry and strengthen your church. Topics covered in the report include:

• Attendance and growth trends

• Baptism ratios and trends

• Leadership profiles of the senior ministers

• Multisite insights

• Worship styles and services

• Giving and debt statistics

• Church staffing

• Outreach and missions giving and involvement 

• Church demographics 

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