Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2016 Edition

Here is the 2016 edition of top 25 fastest growing large United Methodist churches.

These congregations are sons and daughters of the great church grower, John Wesley. Deep in the roots of United Methodism is a call to grow churches. In the midst of an identity crisis, the United Methodist Church would do well to remember its origin as a church growth movement. (The recipe is the same today as it was in the beginning: small-group-oriented, lay-driven, and missionally-minded.)

About average worship attendance (AWA) as an indicator

Many church analysts now look at average worship attendance as one of several indicators of church health. At one time conventional wisdom held that a person would attend worship as a first step in a life of faith.

In 2016, AWA is perhaps no longer a leading indicator. Time is an increasingly precious commodity and studies show that even committed Christians are attending worship less frequently. Just as different metrics offer leading (predictive) or trailing (descriptive) means to measure financial markets, AWA may be shifting from a leading indicator, as a first or an early step in the journey of faith, to a trailing indicator, a later step in the journey of faith.

About the methodology

This list is ordered on a 5-year trend according to self-reporting attendance numbers as recorded by the General Council of Finance and Administration office of the United Methodist Church. To qualify, a congregation must have had at least 1000 in AWA at the end of 2014, which is the most recent full year of official records, and cannot have experienced year-to-year decline in the last two years.

The chart may be difficult to read on smaller mobile devices and is best viewed on a desktop browser.

Here is the 2015 edition and the 2011 edition.

Click on a header to sort by that row.

Rank Church Name City State Sr Pastor Pastor Since 2014 AWA Rank by size 5 Yr Growth Last Year
1 Embrace Sioux Falls SD Adam Weber 2007 2,106 29 1437%
2 Community of Hope Loxahatchee Groves FL Dale Locke 1999 1,050 147 173%
3 Evangelical (EUM) Greenville OH Jeff Harper 2011 1,193 113 91%
4 Impact Atlanta GA Olu Brown 2007 1,699 55 84% 10
5 Faithbridge (*) Spring TX Ken Werlein 1998 3,281 9 84% 1
6 Covenant Greenville SC Darren Hook 2007 1,073 137 81%
7 Christ (*) Fairview Heights IL Shane Bishop 1997 2,065 32 65% 3
8 St. Peters Katy TX Pat Sparks 2013 1,391 79 63%
9 Crosspoint Niceville FL Rurel Ausley 1998 2,898 13 47% 12
10 Harvest (*) Warner Robins GA Jim Cowart 2001 2,859 14 47% 2
11 First McKinney TX Thomas Brumett 2006 1,581 63 44% 11
12 Cokesbury Knoxville TN Stephen DeFur 1998 3,970 8 44%
13 St. Luke’s Oklahoma City OK Bob Long 1991 1,612 59 44% 16
14 The Orchard Tupelo MS Bryan Collier 1997 2,635 17 42% 25
15 First / Cathedral of the Rockies Boise ID Duane Anders 2012 1,450 72 41%
16 New Covenant (*) The Villages FL Harold Hendren 2011 2,138 27 38% 13
17 Cornerstone (*) Caledonia MI Brad Kalajainen 1990 1,824 50 37% 6
18 Woodlawn Panama City Beach FL Joe Lay 2011 1,234 103 30%
19 Live Oak Watson LA Mark Crosby 1996 1,300 90 30%
20 Good Shepherd Charlotte NC Talbot Davis 1999 1,974 40 28% 19
21 Anona Largo FL Jack Stephenson 1993 1,559 66 24% 22
22 Memorial Drive Houston TX Chuck Simmons 1998 1,948 41 23%
23 La Croix Cape Girardeau MO Ron Watts 1988 2,200 24 21%
24 Highland Park Dallas TX Paul Rasmussen 2013 4,932 4 21%
25 Christ Memphis TN Shane Stanford 2011 1,665 57 20%


A few observations as I tabulated this data:

10 United Methodist congregations average at least 3000 AWA.

39 churches average at least 2000 AWA, which is the conventional definition of a “megachurch.” In 2006, my first year of data, 31 churches averaged at least 2000 AWA. While the denomination as a whole continues to decline in overall attendance and membership, the number of large churches grows.

Five of the top ten in overall attendance are growing.

Three are on this list, and the others are Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, KS, and The Woodlands outside of Houston, TX.

Eleven of the top 25 fastest growing churches are new.

Fourteen remain from last year. The larger a congregation becomes, the more historically difficult it has been to sustain a high percentage rate of growth.

Embrace’s rate of growth, 1437%, is not a misprint. Adam Weber was appointed as a church planter in 2007, and at the end of 2009 they averaged 137 people in worship. (They’re the worship venue in the photo at the top of this post.)

Five of the eleven that remain from last year’s list also appeared on the first edition of this list in 2011.

These remarkable congregations have maintained a consistent pattern of growth through eleven straight years of reporting data. They are: Faithbridge, Harvest, Christ, New Covenant, and Cornerstone. They are noted with an asterisk (*) above.

Like last year, 20 of the 25 churches come from the southern half of the country.

The regional breakdown is: 12 churches are from the Southeastern jurisdiction (region of the country), 8 from the South Central, 4 from the North Central, 1 from the Western, and 0 from the Northeastern.

The average leadership tenure represented on this list is 13 years.

Over half of the 25 pastors represented here were appointed to their congregations in the 1990s. The median is 16 years, but the mode dropped from 17 years to 4, which suggests that some generational succession is beginning to take place. Further, none of the pastors represented on the list are women.

Four churches average just under 1000 AWA…

… and may appear on this list soon: The Gathering in St. Louis, MO; Providence in Mt. Juliet, TN; Calvary in East Brunswick, NJ; and Community in Fruitland Park, FL.


A postscript: A lot of people have asked me why I compile this list. The reason is because of the last part of my personal calling, which is “…to advance God’s kingdom.” (Click here to see the whole thing.) I spend the vast majority of my blog time on the first two parts, creative expression and storytelling. The rest of the story is that my hope is for the church to understand the power of creativity and story, and many of the churches on this list are doing a great job.


This list first appeared at

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).