Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2016 Edition

Embrace Church worship, Sioux Falls, SD

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 @peachtreepres. Tickle monster. Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon, 2015).

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15 Comments on “Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2016 Edition”

  1. Nancy Rash

    I was a guest at the 8:30 am service this Sunday at Good Shepherd UMC, Charlotte, NC. I am a Presbyterian, and church choir member at my home church. I was not familiar with the music, but did sing along. After the message, Pray Without Ceasing, we each received a wristband with that message and a Prayer Guide for the next week. As I walked out, Pastor Talbot Davis shook my hand, and said: “Wait, don’t tell me, you are Lea’s mother”. We met only a handful of other times. Everyone we sat near and the door greeters were equally friendly and welcoming. Pastor Talbot has written several books, and Lea gave me one for my birthday. They are opening a new campus for youth/family services. My grandson Joshua planted bushes there as his Eagle Scout project. One feels the heart of Jesus alive and working there.

  2. Jerred

    I would like to see data on rural churches. I pastor one that has grown over 75% in less than 3 years..

  3. John Feagins

    Time for some context…
    1. Embrace… ZIP Code 57108…. 95% White / 2% Hispanic…. Median income $88,734
    2. Community of Hope…33470….79% White….19% Non-Hispanic….Median income $73,306
    3. EUM…45331…97% white / 2% Hispanic….Median Income $36,713
    4. Impact. 30344… 73% Black / 12% Non Hispanic… Median Income $37,324
    5. Faithbridge 77379….75% White / 16% Hispanic… Median Income $97,864
    6. Covenant… 29650…82% White / 8% Hispanic …. Median Income $67,939
    7. Christ …. 62208… 66% White / 22% Black / 3% Non Hispanic… Median Income $59,704
    8. St. Peters Katy 77450 75% White / 18 % Hispanic … .Median Income $99,732
    9. Crosspoint 32578 89% White / 5% Hispanic …. Median Income $73,139
    10. Harvest 31008 76% White / 19% Black / 4% Hispanic … Median Income $52,466

    Context matters. Two of these are actually in economically challenged areas. God bless them. The rest are in affluent areas. Hope they pay their apportionments in full. All are in areas where the fastest growing demographic is largely absent. What this table tells me is that as a culture, the UMC invests most and grows most in areas outside the fastest growing demographic (Hispanic).

    I serve the cause of Christ in an area that can be described as the opposite of those above. In our ZIP code, we are 91% Latino. $22,000 median income. Without commuters, we would be forced to close. Yet the catalogs come in the mail every month – offering the PTZ cameras, the fancy mixing boards, the big projection screens, all the bells and whistles, the guru seminars, all modern day examples of the gilded altars of excess and cults of personality our Protestant forefathers railed against during the Reformation. We have no choice but to say to our mission context, “Silver and gold have we not, but what we have, we offer you.” With this we plow, plant, and water, reach out, witness, heal and baptize, giving God the glory not merely for growth, but for allowing his Kingdom to come.

    I praise God for success stories in the UMC. I pray they do not cause us to scorn the cross.

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  5. W Perkins

    Thanks for this list. I am surprised that Whites Chapel in Southlake, TX was not on the 2016 list but was very strong in 2015. How could it drop out in 2016?

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  7. Dan Byrd

    Why do all these churches have men as their senior pastor? Does the UMC only let women pastor the smaller churches?? Aren’t pastors in the UMC appointed? Why won’t they appoint a woman to pastor these larger churches?

  8. Freddie P. Agualin

    such growth is not so much seen in our Country-Philippines for church workers moved almost yearly to other congregation, a thing that our beloved bishops here have to consider. God bless the UMC

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  10. Eric

    Going off the main topic a bit, but : “studies show that even committed Christians are attending worship less frequently. ” Really? That is about oxymoronic — if attendance is less frequent there is less commitment, Yes, I understand what is being stated. However, people today have no less time to do what needs to be done than at any other time. What has changed is the amount of time people spend in their diversions and entertainment (as these have exploded in number in the last 2-3 decades). People will find the time and the means to do what they want to do. Thus, commitment, at least as far as attendance, is waning — so being a “committed Christian” and spending less time at church is not, in reality, compatible.
    So questions to ask about these numbers are : what is AWA versus church membership? what is AWA and giving/tithing stats (increase/decrease per capita)? what is AWA in relation to involvement in other church functions/programs? how does AWA reflect the number of believers and non-believers ( (a) if all are believers, where are the non-believers? ; (b) if a good number are not believers, how many are coming to faith)? High attendance to not equal church health ( as hinted at by the author ).

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