By Kent Fillinger
Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd released a song a few years ago called “Something to Live For.” Churches and individuals could echo the lyrics of the song; we, too, need something we can live for, hold on to, and believe in.
Hebrews 6:18, 19 says, “We who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Bill Hybels said, “The church is the hope of the world.”
This year’s survey asked churches to share “one hope or dream” for the coming ministry year. The answers varied widely, but the responses give insight into the direction many megachurches (average attendance of more than 2,000) and emerging megachurches (average attendance of 1,000–1,999) seek for their future.
• Eastview Christian Church (Normal, IL) dreams of helping to start 50 churches with their international partners.
• Connection Pointe Christian Church (Brownsburg, IN) hopes to give $1 million to global and community missions for the first time.
• Lifepointe Church (Raleigh, NC) dreams of doubling its church planting budget.
• Tomoka Christian Church (Ormond Beach, FL) dreams of giving $2 million to missions and planting two new churches this year.
• Community Christian Church (Hemet, CA) hopes to start construction on a new children’s ministry building.
• Crossroads Christian Church (Grand Prairie, TX) hopes to get a new youth ministry building started.
• Whitewater Crossing Christian Church (Cleves, OH) and University Christian Church (Manhattan, KS) both hope to move into their new worship centers and children’s ministry buildings.
• Shepherd Church (Porter Ranch, CA) hopes to be a diverse church that boldly proclaims God’s truth.
• Pikes Peak Christian Church (Colorado Springs, CO) hopes to develop a strong marriage and parenting ministry.
• Madison Park Christian Church (Quincy, IL) wants to sharpen its leadership development strategy.
• First Christian Church (Council Bluffs, IA) hopes to connect with the millennial generation.
• Richwoods Christian Church (Peoria, IL) hopes to develop a clear, well-
defined discipleship process.
Other churches mentioned more intentional prayers, more baptisms, disciples who make disciples, greater impact on local communities, changed lives, and unity of vision and mission. Eight megachurches and nine emerging megachurches hope to launch their first multisite or an additional campus this year.
Next, we asked churches to share “one fear” for this next ministry season.
• 2|42 Community Church (Brighton, MI) said, “Bears. Bears are always dangerous.”
• Crossroads Christian Church (Grand Prairie, TX) said, “We don’t do fear here.”
On a more serious note, churches listed some external fears like potential government policy changes that would affect the operations of the church, or how the changing economic and political climate will affect church giving. Several churches mentioned zoning restrictions, governmental interference, and the local government refusing expansion plans.
Another fear was how the church can learn to respond appropriately to our changing culture and global issues. The issues of gay marriage and same-sex attraction made the list of fears as well.
Internal fears also surfaced. Lack of space or running out of space during prime worship times worried some churches. More than a dozen megachurches and emerging megachurches listed finances as a fear. Multiple churches feared stagnating or declining attendance.
Staff-related fears were also common: senior level leadership unity; lack of unity between pastors and elders; overextended staff; an aging staff and leadership team; and fears of hiring the wrong staff, inability to hire quality staff, and of losing a healthy staff culture all made the list.
Four megachurches said complacency was a fear. Several churches feared being too focused on internal needs, and as a result, not reaching into the brokenness of their communities. Eastview Christian Church (Normal, IL) said, “The fear is fear itself. That we allow big dreams to be squelched because we are afraid to take a step of faith.”
The churches also shared their “one priority” for this next year. While it may sound like a “Sunday school answer,” 11 megachurches and emerging megachurches said “reaching the lost” is their top priority for the year. Nonetheless, it’s biblical, and if a church doesn’t make reaching the lost a priority, then it’s easy for mission drift to occur.
An increased focus on discipleship and an added emphasis on disciples who make disciples made the priority list for 14 of the megachurches and emerging megachurches. Summit Christian Church (Sparks, NV) wants to focus more on Jesus and less on “systems.” And RiverTree Christian Church (Massillon, OH) plans to saturate its culture with high levels of both strategy and prayer.
Owensboro (KY) Christian Church, Central Christian Church (Lancaster, CA), and others are reworking their vision, values, and strategies to share with their congregations. Church staff members often help to develop and implement these new visions and strategies. That’s why Pantano Christian Church (Tucson, AZ) and First Christian Church (Springfield, OH) recognize the need this year to fill key vacancies and to keep the right people on staff. Two emerging megachurches want to hire new executive ministers. Moreover, New Day Christian Church (Port Charlotte, FL) intends to hire more staff to match its growth.
Reducing debt is a top priority for Broadway Christian Church (Mesa, AZ) and Christ’s Church (Mason, OH). Related to giving, Community Christian Church (Naperville, IL) and Mountain Christian Church (Joppa, MD) are both focused on implementing generosity initiatives this year.
Discovery Church (Simi Valley, CA) wants to develop better next-step opportunities for guests. The focus for Worthington (OH) Christian Church is on finding new ways to get more people involved in ministry. Reengineering its connection and assimilation process is a priority for Eastside Christian Church (Anaheim, CA), and Whitewater Crossing Christian Church (Cleves, OH) will work to develop efficient systems and processes for a growing church.
Five megachurches and one emerging megachurch listed multisite development as the priority for the year. Sherwood Oaks Christian Church (Bloomington, IN) wants to focus on helping underserved kids and families in its community, and Greenford (OH) Christian Church is making it a priority to help people live missionally.
This year’s research also uncovered a few key trends and developments within our megachurches and emerging megachurches:
Multisites continue to multiply. The number of megachurches with more than one geographical location jumped to 62 percent in 2015. Multisite megachurches had hovered at just under 50 percent for the three years prior. If the eight megachurches expressing plans to go multisite within the next year make it happen, then three-fourths of our megachurches will use a multisite model by the end of 2016.
The 36 multisite megachurches had 125 ministry locations by the end of 2015. This number will continue to grow as churches like Central Christian Church (Mesa, AZ) launches its sixth campus this year. The percentage of megachurch and emerging megachurch attendees who attend the “mother ship” has dropped almost 10 percent in the last five years to an average of 70 percent in 2015.
Growth is tougher to find today. From 1998 to 2004, an average of 80 percent of the megachurches and emerging megachurches in our study grew each of those years. Starting in 2005, this dipped slightly to 70 percent. For the next three years, from 2006 to 2008, an average of 60 percent of these churches grew. The growth rebounded from 2010 to 2014 when an average of 72 percent of megachurches grew and 64 percent of emerging megachurches grew.
Last year, just over half of the megachurches and emerging megachurches reported any growth (54 percent and 57 percent, respectively). This was the lowest mark for both size categories since 1998.
The average growth rate for megachurches has declined the last two years. It hit the lowest mark yet, 1.3 percent, in 2015. Emerging megachurches grew an average of 2 percent last year. This was the second-lowest growth rate recorded (the rate was 1 percent in 2010).
Succession planning still has a long way to go. Since 2012, our survey has tracked the development of succession planning in our churches. Half of emerging megachurches have no succession plan in place. On a positive note, only 19 percent of megachurches have no succession plan. A year ago, twice as many megachurches had no succession plan.
Emergency succession plans are more prevalent than defined departure or retirement plans. Thirty-eight percent of megachurches and 24 percent of emerging megachurches have an emergency succession plan, a bare minimum for every church, regardless of the age or tenure of the lead minister.
Between 30 and 40 percent of megachurches and emerging megachurches reported they are currently working on a succession plan. It should be noted, however, the same percentage of churches has said this for each of the last four years. Yet the percentage of churches with a succession plan isn’t growing proportionately. This seems to indicate that while more churches may be considering succession planning, these churches struggle to complete the process.
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.