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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|19||Good Shepherd||Charlotte||NC||Talbot Davis||2,022||33||4.2%||25|
|22||Korean Central||Irving||TX||Lee Sung-chul||2,011||37||4.0%||—|
|24||The Woodlands||The Woodlands||TX||Ed Robb||5,154||3||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.
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/