By Kent Fillinger
This is the final installment in a trilogy of articles from our annual church survey. If you missed the updates on megachurches and emerging megachurches from May and large and medium churches from June, I suggest you backtrack and read those articles—and view those charts—as well.
For the first time, our survey included churches with attendances of fewer than 250. We received responses from 77 small churches (average weekly worship attendance of 100 to 249) and 51 very small churches (attendance of fewer than 100).
This is a fraction of the total number of Restoration Movement churches of these sizes. Small and very small churches form the largest percentage of all churches. I hope more of these churches will participate in the survey next year.
But I’m excited to share for the first time information and insights about these churches based on the information they provided. I’m a proponent of churches of every size, and I hope these findings will be a valuable resource to you and your church. The Christian church where I was baptized and which I attended until junior high never broke 150 in attendance, but it had a mega impact on my faith and spiritual growth. And I’m confident the 128 churches featured in this issue are making a big difference in their communities and around the world.
Some good examples of their impact include First Christian Church (Erwin, Tennessee), Common Ground (Tampa, Florida), and First Christian Church (Grove, Oklahoma)—all of these churches focused on serving the poor and forgotten in their communities last year. Central Christian Church (Huntingburg, Indiana) enlisted help from five other nearby churches for a community service day; more than 500 people were involved in dozens of projects throughout their city. And Surfside Christian Church (Surfside Beach, South Carolina) hosted a three-day soccer camp for 30 special-needs children.
Central Christian Church (Brownsville, Texas) had numerous community-focused outreach efforts last year, including worship services and activities in both Spanish and English, a dance for the mentally disabled, and a community breakfast for those who have served in the military on Veteran’s Day. The church also started a food and clothing shelter, held a yard sale to raise money for a church in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and donated supplies and money to help with hurricane relief in Texas.
The impact of these churches extended beyond their local communities. For example, West Waynesboro (Virginia) Church of Christ’s missions giving exceeded their missions budget and the church added a new monthly mission partner for the first time in years. North Syracuse (New York) Christian Church bought property for a new church plant in Ukraine. Heights Christian Church (Albuquerque, New Mexico) is taking a mission trip to Kenya. And Bluff Creek Christian Church (Greenwood, Indiana) launched an international ministry internship program.
General fund giving for small and very small churches was comparable to giving in the other size categories by one key metric. The average person at a small church gave $31.80 per week, which was more than the average person in both emerging megachurches and medium churches. Those attending very small churches gave the least of the six size categories, an average of $30.58 per person per week.
Of all the categories, small churches and very small churches were the most likely to be debt free. Fifty-nine percent of small churches and 84 percent of very small churches have no debt. By comparison, only 13 percent of megachurches are debt free.
Several small and very small churches became debt free in the last year, including Brady Lane Church (Lafayette, Indiana), Heights Christian Church (Albuquerque), and Midlands Christian Church (Lexington, South Carolina).
Here are some additional financial facts from last year for churches in these two categories:
- Average total giving in small churches was $344,775; in very small churches it was $113,269.
- Very small churches spent the largest portion of budgeted monies on ministry staff, 52 percent. On the flip side, small churches spent the smallest portion of their budget on ministry staff, 44 percent.
- About half of the small churches increased their overall ministry spending last year, while only 39 percent of very small churches increased spending.
- Small churches invested 17 percent of their budget in ministry outreach, the most of any size church. Very small churches invested 15 percent in outreach, tying them for second place with medium churches.
Blendville Christian Church (Joplin, Missouri) celebrated the most baptisms in more than a decade, a total of 10. Small churches and very small churches in our survey combined to baptize 975 people last year. Of the 128 small and very small churches, 9 percent didn’t have any baptisms in 2017, and 5 percent had only one baptism.
In spite of this, the average baptism ratio (number of baptisms per 100 people in attendance) for small and very small churches was comparable to the other church size categories. The average baptism ratio for small churches was 6.1, the same as emerging megachurches. Very small churches had the lowest baptism ratio, 5.5, which was slightly less than the 5.7 in large churches.
Very small churches grew an average of 5.5 percent last year. This was the second-best growth rate behind megachurches, which grew an average of 5.7 percent. Among the 77 small churches surveyed, however, attendance declined 0.3 percent. Two-thirds of small churches declined in attendance last year.
At least six churches noted their biggest win in 2017 was to start or complete a strategic plan or renewed vision for ministry. Several other churches noted an increased focus on outreach and evangelism.
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.