(See our related post, “2019 Fast Facts from Our Annual Survey of Churches.” Also, we have prepared a download that includes a complete listing of the 439 churches that participated in our survey; the download also spotlights the 10 fastest-growing churches in each category and those churches with the highest baptism ratios. Go here to ACCESS THE DOWNLOAD.
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By Kent Fillinger
Twenty-two years ago marked the first time Christian Standard published a list of churches that averaged more than 1,000 in worship attendance. Sixteen years ago, I started analyzing the data and soon added an annual survey to learn more about our largest churches. Megachurches (average weekly worship attendance of 2,000 or more) and emerging megachurches (averaging 1,000 to 1,999) are the only two size categories for which we have over two decades of attendance and growth data. The survey expanded to include large churches (500 to 999) in 2008 and then added medium churches (250 to 499) in 2009. Finally, in 2017, small (100 to 249) and very small churches (99 or fewer) were added to include churches of all sizes in our annual survey.
The following summaries primarily focus only on the four largest church size categories (except where noted) since the data is more complete for them.
The number of churches (megachurches to medium churches) in our survey rose 21 percent during the past decade, increasing from 234 churches in 2010 to 284 in 2019. A single-year record of 439 churches in all size categories completed our survey of 2019 data. When more churches participate, it produces better data for identifying and understanding trends. We’re grateful to all churches that participated in our survey this year. Here are some interesting things we learned.
Total Worship Attendance
In 2000, the 20 largest churches on our list had a combined total average worship attendance of 80,691. By 2009, this number grew to 143,440 (a 78 percent increase). By 2019, the total average worship attendance for the 20 largest churches was 200,203, a 39 percent increase over the previous decade.
The total number of people attending the 439 churches surveyed last year on an average week was 483,296. This means the 20 largest churches last year represented 4 percent of the churches surveyed but 41 percent of the total attendance recorded.
Online church has developed substantially over the past decade after being barely a blip in 2010. Just over 1 in 4 churches (27 percent) surveyed in 2019 had an online church or Internet campus. An additional 8 percent of those 439 churches indicated they had plans to launch an Internet campus.
Almost half (47 percent) of the churches with an Internet campus do not include any online attendees in their total worship attendance. These churches had an average worship attendance of 2,528 last year.
For the other half (53 percent) that did include online worshippers in their total count, the online attendees constituted 15 percent of their total attendance. These churches averaged 2,360 for worship last year, which means they averaged 2,006 onsite worshippers and 354 Internet worshippers each week.
One church reported that 55 percent of its worship attendance in 2019 occurred online rather than onsite.
Christmas Eve and Easter
Christmas Eve and Easter typically are the best-attended services for churches.
From 2010 to 2019, Easter attendance for our megachurches to medium churches increased 29 percent; in 2019, 872,950 people in these churches attended Easter services. During the same time frame, Christmas Eve attendance in these same churches increased 53 percent to 782,080.
A total of 128 churches participated in both the 2010 and 2019 surveys. Based on average worship attendance, 62 percent of these churches grew during the decade while 38 percent declined. The overall average growth for these 128 churches was 29.8 percent, or just under 3 percent per year for the decade.
The churches that grew during the most recent decade increased an average of 62 percent, or just over 6 percent a year. The churches that saw a decline in attendance decreased by an average of 21 percent, or just over 2 percent per year.
The fastest-growing churches over the last decade were:
- 2|42 Community Church, Brighton, Michigan: 516.2 percent growth
- Traders Point Christian Church, Whitestown, Indiana: 223 percent
- Third City Christian Church, Grand Island, Nebraska: 194.5 percent
- The Crossing, Quincy, Illinois: 165.9 percent
- Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, California: 159 percent
From 2000 to 2004, megachurches and emerging megachurches averaged 8 percent growth annually. Since then, the annual growth rate has been 4 percent.
The overall average annual growth rate for medium churches through megachurches the last 10 years was only 3 percent. The best year for growth, 4.3 percent, was 2011; the slowest year for growth, 2.6 percent, was last year.
2019 Growth Rates
Among the six size categories during 2019, emerging megachurches had the best overall average growth rate at 4.2 percent, while churches in the very small category saw a decline, shrinking by 0.4 percent in average attendance.
The larger the size category, the more likely churches within it experienced growth in 2019. For example, 75 percent of megachurches grew last year but only 44 percent of very small churches grew. Overall, just more than half of the churches (55 percent) surveyed last year experienced growth. The growing churches averaged a 10 percent increase, while the declining churches averaged a 7 percent decrease.
We can rejoice that 339,950 people were baptized in the various churches surveyed during the last decade. During the past 10 years, the average number of people baptized yearly has ranged from a high of 37,194 in 2014 to a low of 28,683 in 2010. Last year, 32,139 baptisms were reported, though 30 of the 439 churches (7 percent) reported no baptisms.
Our “baptisms per buck” statistic looks at the total baptisms at a church in relation to that congregation’s general fund giving; the resulting dollar figure represents how much a church invests in each baptism. The cost per baptism decreased slightly (1 percent) over the past decade, from $28,292 in 2010 (cost adjusted for inflation over the time period) to $28,039 in 2019.
More churches incorporated a multisite ministry model over the past decade, and the average number of campuses each church operates also increased. In 2010, there were 46 megachurches to medium churches using a multisite model; the total campuses at these churches was 125. This means the average multisite church had 2.7 campuses at the start of the decade.
At the end of the decade, 65 megachurches to medium churches had multiple sites, representing a 41 percent increase. These churches operated a total of 242 campuses in 2019, an increase of 117 sites (94 percent) during the decade. An average multisite church today has 3.7 campuses.
Twelve churches surveyed indicated they have plans to launch a multisite ministry model within the next year. This means only 3 percent of single-site churches we surveyed plan to switch to a multisite model. Emerging megachurches represented over half of these twelve churches with multisite plans followed by large churches that made up a third of the total.
Some are predicting the 20-year multisite trend is ending. The increased use of online church in recent years likely has impacted multisite strategy plans to some degree.
I predict current multisite churches will continue with that model. Some may spin off campuses to be stand-alone churches in the future; this would reflect a recent trend of some large multisite churches outside our movement.
My hunch is that current multisite churches will continue to add and absorb more campuses through mergers and acquisitions in the coming years as smaller churches struggle to find ministry staff and remain financially viable. 2|42 Community Church in Michigan is a great example of this; 2|42 added three existing churches averaging about 1,500 people during 2019.
General fund giving and per-person giving both increased in the last decade. The adjusted average total general fund giving (based on the U.S. inflation calculator) for megachurches to medium churches in 2010 was $2,855,609. This figure increased 19 percent to $3,406,764 in 2019.
Likewise, the per-person average weekly giving based on the general fund increased 5 percent during the decade. The average per-person weekly giving, adjusted for inflation, was $31.21 in 2010 and climbed to $32.68 last year.
The debt load for the churches surveyed declined slightly throughout the last decade, when factoring in inflation. Again, looking at megachurches to medium churches, the inflation-adjusted debt load for the average church in 2010 was $4,740,164; this decreased 4 percent to an average debt load of $4,548,745 per church in 2019.
Forty percent of the churches surveyed reported being debt free. Among very small churches, 93 percent reported having no debt; on the opposite extreme, only 11 percent of megachurches were debt free.
The survey found that 70 percent of the 439 churches saw giving that either met or exceeded their budget. The combined average growth rate for these churches in 2019 was 3.5 percent. The 30 percent of churches that didn’t meet their budget declined in attendance 1.8 percent last year, on average.
In the coming months, I will share more information and insights from our annual church survey on other topics not included in this piece that I hope will help your church better evaluate your ministry. I’m excited to see what this new decade will bring for our churches as we continue to fulfill God’s mission in our communities and around the world.
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and regional vice president (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan) with Christian Financial Resources.