Warren Bird is one of the leading researchers in large church dynamics. He also was my ‘youth group leader’ in junior high! His research this year is fascinating as always:
Very Large Churches: Wired, Multisite, Growing and Well Led
by Warren Bird and Scott Thumma
Last weekend, about 56 million Americans worshipped at a Protestant church. Most of those churches drew fewer than 100 people each, a size that’s characterized the “typical” church for centuries. But in the last few decades a new class of church has emerged: the very large church, often called a megachurch. And last weekend over 10% – or nearly 6 million – of these worshippers were part of congregations that each drew 2,000 or more in total attendance. If this group of churches were a Protestant denomination, it would be the nation’s second largest such group.
In recent months we surveyed this group of very large churches and made some fascinating discoveries. The following list highlights some of the most important findings. The link at the bottom of this article then takes you to a fuller report and the actual survey frequencies. We will also be releasing more of findings from this survey in the coming months.
• These churches are wired.
While 88% say their church/pastoral leadership uses Facebook or other social media on a regular basis, nearly three-fourths do podcasts and 56% blog.
• Multisite interest has grown dramatically.
Half are multisite with another 20% thinking about it.
• Growth is steady.
Despite occasional news reports that large churches are a Boomer phenomenon or are now in decline, a steady growth pattern remains evident, with these churches averaging 8% growth per year for last five years. Thus the stated average attendance for these churches grew from 2,604 in 2005 to 3,597 in 2010.
• The leader at the helm makes all the difference.
Seventy-nine percent say the church’s most dramatic growth occurred during tenure of current senior pastor.
• Worship options extend beyond Sunday morning.
While virtually all have multiple Sunday morning services, 48% have one or more Saturday night services, and 41% have one or more Sunday night services.
• They are both big and small.
Eighty-two percent say small groups are “central to our strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation,” and 72% put a “lot of emphasis” on “Scripture studies other than Sunday school.” They report that 46% of their attenders are involved in small groups.
• They have a high view of their own spiritual vitality.
An overwhelming 98% agree that their congregations are “spiritually alive and vital.” In addition, 98% say they have strong beliefs and values, 95% say they have a clear mission, and 93% say they are willing to change to meet new challenges.
• Newcomer orientation is constant.
Forty percent of regular participants age 18 and older are new to the congregation in the last five years. And 70% of participants are under the age of 50.
• The dominant identity is “evangelical.”
Of eight options offered, the majority chose the word evangelical to identify their theological outlook. Interestingly, barely 1% chose labels at the two theological extremes – either fundamentalist or liberal.
• The vast majority do not have serious financial struggles.
Only 6% say church’s financial health is in some or serious difficulty (and only 7% said that for five years previously). However, half adversely felt the effects of the economic crisis and 5% fewer report their financial health as “excellent” compared to five years ago.
• Staffing costs are comparable to those of other churches.
Forty-eight percent of the average large church’s total expenditures go to salary and benefits.
• They are not independent.
Seventy percent say their church is part of a denomination, network, fellowship, or association of churches. For those who are currently non-denominational, 33% say they were once part of a denomination.
For full survey results download the full report »