Readers of this blog know that I track weekly worship attendance data of the top 250 United Methodist congregations in America. I have 15 years of data now, and one thing is clear from the numbers: approximately 30% of the churches in the dataset are growing at any one time, and 70% are either plateaued or declining. I have been cautious to make this declaration publicly or to make the extrapolation that because this is true for the largest 250 United Methodist congregations in America, it is true for all United Methodist congregations in America, or true for all congregations, period.
Now, the Baptist congregational researcher Thom Rainer has published a new blog post of jointly sponsored research from Lifeway, the Baptist publishing arm, and Exponential, the church planting network, which states the east same thing. In the post, which is worth reading, Thom writes:
70% of churches are subtracting/declining or plateauing. Only 30% are adding/growing based on Exponential’s categorization of churches which is defined above. This data is largely consistent with other research we have done. The period covered is three years.
It’s worth noting that this 70/30 split comes from their recent research (a 3-yr period), is “largely consistent” with previous research Rainer and his team have done, and matches my own research from the largest 250 United Methodist churches dataset.
Through these three sources, I think it’s safe to say that at any give time, approximately 30% can be declared to be “growing.”
The next question is, what does growing mean? Statistically, the bar is pretty low. I’ll publish more soon on the latest numbers among large United Methodist churches in America.