Despite institutional decline, the Wesleyan movement is alive and well and is happening in real congregations in the United Methodist Church. Consider this list of the top 25 fastest growing large United Methodist congregations in the United States. The list looks at the most recent complete four years of average weekly worship attendance data (2006-2009, as 2010 numbers won’t be finalized with the denomination until later this year). Of course, a lot can happen in a year and a half and some of these congregations now average more than what is displayed below.
A congregation must have at least 1000 in weekly worship in 2009 to qualify for the list.
|Rank||Church||Location||Pastor||Year Founded||Current Pastor Since||2009 AWA||Rank by Size||% Growth Since 06|
|1||Grace||Ft Myers FL||Jorge Acevedo||1978||1996||2634||16||53%|
|2||Christ||Hickory NC||Charles Kyker||1992||1998||2620||17||46%|
|3||Faithbridge||Spring TX||Ken Werlein||1999||1999||1787||43||45%|
|4||Beach||Jacksonville FL||Jerry Sweat||1937||2001||2069||27||39%|
|5||Harvest||Warner Robbins GA||Jim Cowart||2001||2001||1945||32||34%|
|6||The Woodlands||The Woodlands TX||Ed Robb||1975||1978||4142||5||30%|
|7||Van Dyke||Lutz FL||Matthew Hartsfield||1985||1993||2143||25||29%|
|8||Christ||Fairview Heights IL||Shane Bishop||1953||1997||1252||105||28%|
|9||Morning Star||O’Fallon MO||Michael Schreiner||1999||1999||1535||65||27%|
|10||Lee’s Summit||Lee’s Summit MO||James Preisig||1867||2001||1364||83||27%|
|11||First||Flushing NY||Joong Urn Kim||1811||2011||1368||82||25%|
|12||Covenant||Dothan AL||Hays McKay, Jr||1979||1998||1235||110||25%|
|13||New Covenant||The Villages FL||Harold Hendren||2000||2011||1548||63||24%|
|14||Granger Community||South Bend IN||Mark Beeson||1986||1986||5561||3||24%|
|15||La Croix||Cape Girardeau MO||Ron Watts||1988||1988||1815||40||22%|
|16||Harvest||Dothan AL||Ralph Sigler||1996||1996||1517||66||22%|
|17||Foundry||Houston TX||Godfrey Hubert||1978||1984||1714||45||20%|
|18||Cokesbury||Knoxville TN||Steven Sallee||1960s||1997||2764||13||18%|
|19||Riverchase||Birmingham AL||James Savage||1980||1998||1599||56||18%|
|20||Christ||Jackson MS||David Brownlee||1961||2008||1816||39||18%|
|21||Cornerstone||Caledonia MI||Bradley Kalajainen||1990||1990||1334||86||17%|
|22||Highland Park||Dallas TX||Mark Craig||1916||1995||4075||6||16%|
|23||First||Lakeland FL||David McEntire||1884||2007||1634||53||16%|
|24||Crossroads||Concord NC||Lowell McNaney||1995||1995||1300||95||16%|
|25||White’s Chapel||Southlake TX||John McKellar||1872||1992||3838||7||16%|
These congregations represent some of the most innovative and effective ministry practices today, and church leaders would do well to study them closely. Here is a quick sample of some information pulled from this impressive list:
- 10 of the top 25 have multiple campuses. Grace Church and Christ Church, which by no coincidence are numbers 1 and 2 on this list, have the most campuses, with 5 each. As church growth has stretched the limits of what one venue and one site can do, multi-site ministry is the becoming the next wave in growing churches of all denominations. Other churches on the list are in process of adding sites, venues and campuses.
- 10 of the 25 are entirely “contemporary” or “modern” in worship style. 14 have a mix of traditional and modern services. One, First UMC in Flushing NY, serves the Korean community in its area. None are entirely traditional in worship style.
- Twelve are products of the church planting era; four date to the 19th century and a fifth, Highland Park, is approaching its centennial. Eight are still led by their founding pastor.
- Stability is key. The average senior pastor’s tenure is over 14 years. Removing four recent changes in leadership as a result of retirement, the average tenure jumps to 17 years. Every pastor in the top 10 has been led their congregation for at least 10 years.
- 3 of the top 7 and 5 total are part of the Florida Conference. The Texas and Missouri Conferences have 3 each on the list, and the Western North Carolina and Alabama-West Florida Conferences have 2 each. Most are located in the Bible Belt; the four congregations in the northern United States are Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL; First UMC in Flushing, NY; Granger in South Bend, IN; and Cornerstone in Grand Rapids, MI.