Church Multiplication Scorecard
Church Multiplication Scorecard

By Kent Fillinger 

A new question on our last annual church survey asked, “Using the scale created by Exponential.org, which of the following best describes your church in 2017?”             

  • Level 1: Declining (attendance going down)
  • Level 2: Holding Even (attendance largely unchanged)
  • Level 3: Growing (attendance growth by 5 percent or more)
  • Level 4: Adding/Reproducing (we directly launched another new campus or church plant)
  • Level 5: Multiplying (a campus or church we helped to start has itself become a reproducing church)

In Exponential’s e-book Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church Field Guide, Todd Wilson, Dave Ferguson, and Alan Hirsch provided this quick summary of the characteristics of the first three levels:

  • Level 1 is characterized by subtraction and scarcity thinking.
  • Level 2 is characterized by plateau, survival, and tension between scarcity and growth.
  • Level 3 is characterized by a strong addition-growth culture.

They also wrote, “In summary, 80 percent (of churches) are plateaued or declining; 16 percent are adding but not reproducing or multiplying; 4 percent are reproducing but are not multiplying; and essentially 0 percent are multiplying.”

 

How Our Churches Compare

In an article in the November/December 2015 Outreach magazine, Wilson and Ferguson contended that 80 to 90 percent of the churches in the U.S. are Level 1 or 2 churches. But based on the self-designation of the churches from our 2017 annual church survey, only 57 percent of the 428 churches identified themselves as Level 1 or 2 churches (see chart below).

The Level 1 and Level 2 churches in our study on average declined in attendance in 2017 (-6.9 percent and -1.5 percent, respectively). However, 27 percent of the churches that identified as Level 2 churches experienced a positive growth rate that year (4.8 percent average growth rate).  

Thirty-three percent of the churches in our study designated themselves as a Level 3 church, which is double the approximately 16 percent of all churches nationally that Exponential identifies at Level 3. However, 10 percent of the churches in our study that identified themselves as Level 3 churches declined in attendance (average decline of 7 percent), and an additional 2 percent of these churches experienced no growth in 2017.

Wilson, Ferguson, and Hirsch estimated less than 5 percent of U.S. churches ever reproduce (Level 4) in their lifetime. But 8 percent of the churches in our study self-reported at Level 4, and 12 percent of these Level 4 churches declined in attendance during 2017 (average of 4 percent decline).

Finally, the Exponential authors concluded that “less than 0.05 percent of U.S. churches find themselves functioning as Level 5 multiplying churches.” Two percent of the churches in our study identified at Level 5, which included 7 percent of the megachurches reporting. Overall, 22 percent of these Level 5 churches declined in attendance in 2017 while 67 percent of these churches grew an average of 18 percent.

Level 1 Churches Level 2 Churches Level 3 Churches Level 4 Churches Level 5 Churches
Overall % of all churches surveyed 13% 44% 33% 8% 2%
Average Worship Attendance 629 787 1,021 4,183 3,435
2017 Growth Rates -6.9% -1.5% 10.5% 9.8% 11.6%
2017 Baptism Ratios 5.0 5.5 7.1 7.4 7.5
Percentage with a Multisite 11% 7% 13% 70% 67%

 

The chart above illustrates that growth rates and baptism ratios (the number of people baptized per 100 in average attendance) mostly increased accordingly from Level 1 to 5 for the churches we surveyed. Churches ranking themselves at Level 4 or 5 were also significantly more likely to use a multisite model.

The chart below shows the breakdown of how the 428 churches in our 2017 survey study identified themselves using the Exponential Church Multiplication spectrum. The bold-faced percentages show that the highest percentage of churches in each size category identified as a Level 2 church except for megachurches, which were more likely to identify at Level 4.

 

Level 1 Churches Level 2 Churches Level 3 Churches Level 4 Churches Level 5 Churches
Very Small Churches 18% 55% 27% 0% 0%
Small Churches 22% 45% 31% 1% 0%
Medium Churches 11% 48% 39% 2% 0%
Large Churches 10% 45% 37% 5% 2%
Emerging Megachurches 13% 40% 35% 8% 4%
Megachurches 4% 28% 26% 35% 7%

 

 

What It All Means

Wilson, Ferguson, and Hirsch theorized that “no matter where a church currently finds itself, it can choose to put Level 5 multiplication practices in place” (from Becoming a Level Five Multiplying Church Field Guide).

Based on the parable of the talents, I don’t believe every church or leader is equipped or designed to be a Level 5 multiplying church. (Consider also, not every athlete qualifies for the Olympics.)

This is because not every servant receives five talents from his boss. Some receive two talents and some receive one. The mandate is to make the most of what you have received and put your talents to work. Every leader and church still is responsible to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

Churches and leaders shouldn’t beat themselves up if they find themselves in a two-talent or one-talent church. Nor should they envy or criticize five-talent churches!

If you’re a “two-talent” leader or church, then make the most of the talents and potential you have. Realize that it’s not likely you’re going to be a Level 5 multiplying church, and that’s OK! The employee who received two talents from his boss still made the most of it and doubled his talents and received his boss’s reward.

But don’t be like the person who received one talent and decided to bury it. Take the one talent and try to acquire more (grow and reach the community), or else the one talent may be taken away and given to the person who has doubled his five talents to ten.

We see this reality played out today when a megachurch absorbs or acquires a smaller, struggling church that buried its talent and didn’t take advantage of opportunities. As a result, their church dies and is lumped in with the larger church nearby or becomes a satellite campus for a larger church. 

Wilson and Ferguson also said in Outreach, “Regardless of the multiplication level your church is at today, the key is to consider where you are, where you’d like to go and what you need to change today to move yourself in the right direction.”   

This is a basic recipe for a strategic-planning process any church can follow to be more effective in making disciples: Identify where you are today, define your destination, evaluate the size of the gap between reality and your preferred future, and determine what steps you’ll take to close the gap.

Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (emphasis mine). As church leaders, we must never forget that our job is to be faithful in making disciples who make disciples as we plant seeds, water the soil, and pull the weeds (removing obstacles to growth). But it’s God who brings the increase and grows the church.

 

Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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