Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2018 Edition

Len WilsonChurch, Innovation, Leadership, Strategic Thinking12 Comments

Top 25 Fastest Growing UM Churches

 The purpose of the fastest growing churches list is to celebrate hearts, lives and communities being changed through the ministries of congregations across the United States.

It’s been said that the era of “church growth” is over. The reason for moving away from “church growth” as an ideology is that it put the emphasis on results, just as a focus in education on testing has taken away from the learning process. It isn’t that growing churches is bad, it’s just that growth isn’t the purpose. It’s the result.

The real story of ministry is not the growth we generate, but the creative process, and I mean that as a theological statement. Creativity isn’t a job we do to achieve a specific end but a state of living, of being. Creativity is an essential attribute of God. This means that growth isn’t the goal, it’s the outcome.

As I release this year’s list, it is my hope that we use it to learn about creativity and innovation. Let’s celebrate new ideas and changing hearts, lives and communities in these churches.

 

Methodology for the Fastest Growing Churches

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 2016, which is the most recent full year of official records, and cannot have experienced year-to-year decline in the last two years. There are many reasons healthy, vibrant churches might not be on this list, and the list is designed to celebrate stories of changing hearts, lives and communities. It is not designed in any way to diminish the efforts of churches that didn’t meet the list’s requirement standards.

The chart may be difficult to read on smaller mobile devices and is best viewed on a desktop browser. Here are links to previous editions of this same list for the 2017 edition, the 2016 edition, the 2015 edition and the 2011 edition.

Click on a header to sort by that row.

Rank Church Name City State Sr Pastor 2016 AWA Rank by size 5 Yr Annual Growth Last Year
1 Embrace Sioux Falls SD Adam Weber 4,103 7 57.6% 1
2 Providence Church Mt. Juliet TN Jacob Armstrong 1,407 76 18.2% 4
3 The Gathering Saint Louis MO Matt Miofsky 1,297 85 17.5% 3
4 Community of Hope Loxahatchee Groves FL Dale Locke 1,436 70 16.3% 2
5 Impact Atlanta GA Olu Brown 2,342 22 13.4% 6
6 Crosspoint Niceville FL Rurel Ausley 3,612 10 10.2% 10
7 St. Luke’s Oklahoma City OK Bob Long 1,947 39 10.0% 14
8 Sun City Center Sun City Center FL Charles Rentz 1,191 108 9.7% 8
9 Evangelical (EUM) Greenville OH Jeff Harper 1,244 99 8.8% 7
10 New Covenant The Villages FL Harold Hendren 2,464 20 8.7% 16
11 Cokesbury Knoxville TN Stephen Defur 4,201 6 7.3% 17
12 Christ Fairview Heights IL Shane Bishop 2,218 28 6.8% 13
13 Calvary East Brunswick NJ Sang Won Doh 1,020 151 6.6% 5
14 First Flushing NY Kim Jeong-Ho 1,900 44 5.6%
15 Gold Canyon Gold Canyon AZ Fred Steinberg 1,355 81 5.5%
16 The Chapel Brunswick GA Jay Hanson 1,147 115 5.2% 12
17 Destin Pensacola FL Barry Carpenter 1,064 140 5.1%
18 Covenant Dothan AL Hays McKay 1,510 64 4.7%
19 Good Shepherd Charlotte NC Talbot Davis 2,022 33 4.2% 25
20 Cornerstone Caledonia MI Brad Kalajainen 1,942 40 4.2%
21 Crossroads Oakdale PA Steve Cordle 1,460 66 4.1%
22 Korean Central Irving TX Lee Sung-chul 2,011 37 4.0%
23 McFarlin Norman OK Linda Harker 1,129 121 3.9%
24 The Woodlands The Woodlands TX Ed Robb 5,154 3 3.6%
25 First Mansfield TX David Alexander 2,624 15 3.6%

 

Fastest Growing Churches Analysis

New, Returning and Sustaining Churches

10 churches on the list are new this year, compared to 6 last year and 7 the year before. The stories of these new churches range from plants to turnarounds to established churches reaping the growth of new initiatives. I encourage you to visit each church’s website to learn more.

Of the 10 new churches, five returned to the list after dropping off in a previous year. They are: First in Flushing, NY; Cornerstone in Caledonia, MI; Korean Central in Irving, TX; The Woodlands in The Woodlands, TX; and First in Mansfield, TX.

Five churches are on their 2nd consecutive year, three on the 3rd year, and five on the 4th year. Two churches remain on this list from its first publication in 2011 – New Covenant in The Villages, FL, pastored by Harold Hendren, and Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL, pastored by Shane Bishop. These churches have maintained steady growth for at least 11 years.

Top 25 Average Annual Growth: 3.6%

What is a healthy worship attendance growth target for a church?

At my church, St. Andrew (47th in overall size), we achieved our goal of 4% average worship attendance growth this past year and hope to again in the coming year. If you can sustain an average annual growth rate of 3.6%, you’ll likely appear on this list at some point.

Last year I noted that the bar for growth was getting higher. This year’s 25th church has achieved five-year total growth of 19.4%, which translates to an annual growth average of 3.6% from 2011-2016 (the most recent reporting year). This is down from a total growth rate of 30% last year, and back to where I began tracking this list. Perhaps last year’s rate was more outlier than norm.

First Female Pastor

I’m excited to report the United Methodist Church’s first Top 25 Fastest Growing church led by a female. McFarlin, pastored by Linda Harker, is also the only turnaround church on this list. I define a turnaround church as a congregation that dipped at least 10% and then began growing again. This congregation had dropped from 1150 in 2006, my first year of reporting data, to 910 in 2010, a 21% drop. They’ve been on a steady climb since Harker became senior pastor in 2011, and at the end of 2016, averaged 1,129 in worship, which is an annual growth rate of 3.9% for the last five years. Linda says, “The best part of being McFarlin’s pastor is watching transformed lives respond to God’s love by being the hands and feet of Christ.”

Giving and Growth

The average annual operating revenue per attendee among the top 25 fastest growing UM churches is $1,570. This means the Top 25 churches receive about $30 per attendee per week. This is 32% less than the top 200 churches as a whole. For more statistics and information about giving and the top 200 churches, read my post on Giving and Growth Among the Top 200 United Methodist Churches at horizons.net.

The midpoint of the top 200

There are a total of 37 churches that average at least 2000 in worship each weekend, and 163 that average at least 1000 in worship. Here are some median statistics for the top 200 churches:

  • Weekly worship attendance: 1236
  • Annual growth (5 years): -0.3%
  • Annual budget: $2,756,199
  • Debt: $1,762,207
  • Debt to income ratio: 0.6

73% of large churches are declining

You may notice the negative median growth rate above.

The average growth rate show a slight increase. The difference indicates that while the top 200 are growing as a whole, over half of the churches are declining. In fact, that number is much higher than average: 73%.

I’ve received comments from pastors of smaller churches who believe that large churches grow more easily. Perhaps, the comment goes, they’ve got history and resources and other things that small churches don’t have. But the data shows that most of our large churches are declining. For example, in 2016, among the top 25 churches in overall attendance, 14 declined. The data shows that it’s hard to grow a church, regardless of size.

Of the top 200 churches in United Methodism, which accounts for all churches above 850 in average weekly worship attendance, only 27%  have grown each of the past two years.

Honorable Mentions

A few churches that did not make this list are worth noting. The Gathering Place in Moody, AL, pastored by Matt Scott, reported a slight decline in 2016. Their 69.3% annual growth rate over the last five years would have placed them #1 on the list. Similarly, Faithbridge in Spring, TX, pastored by Ken Werlein, ha been a regular on this list. They reported a slight decline in 2016 but have ranked in the top 10. Highland Park in Dallas, TX, pastored by Paul Rasmussen, has been on a pattern of steady growth since 2012. They have grown 1000 in worship in the last two years.

 

A postscript: I post this data because I believe its helpful for my tribe, United Methodism, to better live out our collective calling to make disciples. My calling is to help churches communicate the gospel more effectively (Click here to read more on my strategies for growing churches.) The bulk of this blog focuses on specific strategies for growth: creativity, communication and storytelling. My hope is that the Church will fully comprehend the role of creativity and story in sharing the story of Jesus, and changing hearts, lives and communities.

This list first appeared at lenwilson.us/top-25-fastest-growing-large-umc-2018/

 

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).

12 Comments on “Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2018 Edition”

  1. Would love to know the ethnic/racial diversity of these churches, especially compared to the area where they are located.

    1. Nora, thanks for your comment. The denomination does not publish a ethnic / racial percentage breakdown of individual congregations. I encourage you to reach out to each, as I am sure they would provide it, and then compare it to the local demographics of each area.

  2. There are several really great Methodist Churches in the DFW area. I am very fortunate that I live in Mansfield and I can tell you first hand that my church is outstanding!
    There are so many things that they do well. They do children’s outreach, ministry. They are fantastic in the service area too. There are programs to help out elderly (MOW, Hands of Christ) and the usual Habitat outreach.
    The place where I think we are really growing is in the area of special needs outreach. We have a special outreach especially designed for special needs people.
    We have so many growth areas that it’s really exciting to be a part of FUMC Mansfield.
    I could go on and on, but I won’t. God is good and as we say in our church, God Is Big Enough!

  3. In case this point has not been listed somewhere —
    Why do a study, and capitalize on it, about UM church stats related to US context? United Methodist Churches are global!
    Using such information creates bias, dependency, desrespect. Think about it!

    1. Carolyn, thanks for your comment. This study is based on publicly available data regarding UM churches in the United States. Global data about UM churches is not publicly available.

  4. Len, interesting that you have focused simply on numeric growth. If the stats are available, I would have thought there were two statistics of greater importance: Firstly, the number of people that came to and/or back to faith (rather then transfers from another church), and secondly, the number of church members sent-out as part of starting new ventures.

    1. Christian, good thoughts. The source data from the denomination used for this list doesn’t include either, but both would be worthy of further research.

  5. Len, I think a lot of churches miss the point of church growth. Growth is not the end goal. It is a result. as is decline. This may speak volumes in considering the percentage of our churches that are suffering decline. It is also worrisome when you have churches, large and small, that are faced with declining worship numbers, and general participation and yet can come up with nothing better than the old, “Well, there is just nothing we can do!” It often appears to me that the thing United Methodist Churches can get most creative about is making excuses. There is much that can be learned from your yearly update. Good stuff Len, keep it up.

  6. I have been teaching a book entitled “Connect” written by Phil Maynard and another author. This book stresses that our focus should not be upon getting people into our buildings but pushing our member out into the streets and community to transforms our world. How do we balance church growth with making disciples? How do we honor congregations that are striving to be outward, rather than inward?

    I am serving a new established congregation formed from the merger to 3 congregations. This congregation is intentionally cross-racial and intergenerational. What other churches in our connection are intentionally cross racial and how are addressing the fact that the UMC is 90 percent white. These are a few of my concerns.

    1. Michael, thanks for your note. I suggest to you that this is a both/and focus, not an either/or focus.

      The bifurcation of mission and evangelism is a 20th century idea and was codified into the UM Discipline in 1908. I question whether it still makes sense to think of these as distinct and separate activities, or whether instead of the idea of being “attractive” and being “missional” are in fact two sides of the same coin. I write about this in various places in my blog. Jesus intrigued and Jesus challenged, often in the same conversation.

      For example, at my church, St. Andrew, we worship around 2000 a weekend in worship, and we are growing. Some of these people are affluent, nominally connected people from north Dallas. Maybe you could call them “crowds,” as Jesus attracted crowds. At the same time our community includes hundreds of committed disciples who do real service to our community. For example, we have a ministry called The Storehouse of Collin County, TX, which is the largest food bank in the county.

      Our goal is to gather in worship and send out in mission – all part of the same community. In fact we stress four core parts of what it means to be a Christ follower – Worship, Connect, Serve and Give. We tell stories of change such as this one: https://www.standrewumc.org/sparktank

      We are not perfect by any means at my church, but we are trying to live out the Wesleyan challenge of both personal and social holiness. If you have a moment, tell me about your church, and thanks for writing.

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