Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2017 Edition

Len WilsonChurch, Innovation, Leadership, Strategic Thinking11 Comments

Good news: the bar for church growth is rising. This year, as 6 new churches join my annual top 25 list of fastest growing large United Methodist churches, the minimum growth percentage is 30% over the last 5 years. When I started this list, 19% would have landed a church in the top 25. It seems that an increased focus on church planting and renewal is working.

How do churches grow? The best way to know the answer to this question may be to look very closely at churches that are growing the best. One of the benefits to tracking congregational growth is to learn the latest in effective techniques for ministry. For example, this article names some best practices from my 2016 list, and coming soon, I will do an analysis of the latest website trends for these churches.

Learning from other good ideas, or what George Day of the Harvard Business Review calls the incremental improvements of “Small I” innovation, can result in solid annual growth. As church leaders, we can all improve our ministry by adopting new methods – even those of us who have been fighting the good fight for decades.

But on the other hand, Small I is usually not what drives the kind of growth that lands a church on this list. That kind of growth comes from “Big I” innovation – the proverbial game changer creative thinking and application.

Moreover, Big I isn’t just Small I on steroids. According to Day’s research, Small I does not lead to Big I. In fact, Small I often drains energy from Big I. Perhaps the truly best practice is for churches to intentionally pursue both, but to see them as separate activities with separate resources and timelines.

However you do it, innovation – the applied practice of creative thinking – is an essential part of our calling to create disciples for the transformation of the world, and the churches on this list are doing it as well as anyone right now.

I’ll be posting more on church innovation in the future here.


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 2015, 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 are links to previous editions of this same list for 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 Pastor Since 2015 AWA Rank by size 5 Yr Growth Last Year
1 Embrace Sioux Falls SD Adam Weber 2007 3,082 12 1042% 1
2 Community of Hope Loxahatchee Groves FL Dale Locke 1996 1,276 91 228% 2
3 The Gathering Saint Louis MO Matt Miofsky 2006 1,100 140 134%
4 Providence Church Mt. Juliet TN Jacob Armstrong 2008 1,060 151 128%
5 Calvary East Brunswick NJ Sang Won Doh 2010 1019 161 126%
6 Impact Atlanta GA Olu Brown 2006 2,250 26 107% 4
7 Evangelical (EUM) Greenville OH Jeff Harper 2011 1,214 107 82% 3
8 Sun City Center Sun City Center FL Charles Rentz 2014 1,126 134 80%
9 Faithbridge Spring TX Ken Werlein 1999 3,314 9 73% 5
10 Crosspoint Niceville FL Rurel  Ausley 1998 3,264 10 61% 9
11 First Coral Springs FL Vance Rains 2016 1,085 145 58%
12 The Chapel Brunswick GA Jay Hanson 2004 1,076 147 55%
13 Christ Fairview Heights IL Shane Bishop 1997 2,145 33 53% 7
14 St. Luke’s Oklahoma City OK Bob Long 1991 1,722 55 52% 13
15 First McKinney TX Thomas Brumett 2008 1,787 50 50% 11
16 New Covenant The Villages FL Harold Hendren 2011 2,289 24 48% 16
17 Cokesbury Knoxville TN Stephen Defur 1998 4,157 7 48% 12
18 Live Oak Watson LA Mark Crosby 1996 1,437 73 47% 19
19 St. Peter’s Katy TX Patrick Sparks 2013 1,453 71 43% 8
20 The Orchard Tupelo MS Bryan Collier 1998 2,711 15 42% 14
21 Christ Memphis TN Shane Stanford 2011 1,911 44 40% 25
22 Church of the Resurrection Leawood KS Adam Hamilton 1990 9,441 1 39%
23 Woodlawn Panama City Beach FL Joe Lay 2011 1,271 93 34% 18
24 Good Shepherd Cypress TX Bill Haygood 1993 1,036 159 33%
25 Good Shepherd Charlotte NC Talbot Davis 1999 1,998 40 30% 20


About the Top 25 Churches

New churches

6 churches on the list are new this year (7 were new last year). 9 churches have been on the list for the last 3 years. Additionally, 3 churches on the top 25 list – Faithbridge, Christ, and New Covenant – have appeared on every edition, including the 2011 list, which means they’ve been both large and growing at a steady rate for at least 10 years. More on sustained growth below.

Plants and Turnarounds

5 of the churches on the list are new church plants within the last 10 years, including 4 of the top 6 – Embrace, The Gathering, Providence and Impact.

5 churches are turnarounds, which I have defined as recovery from a loss of at least 10% AWA in the past ten years, including two of the top 8 – Calvary and EUM. A few of these turnaround stories are dramatic – to appear on this list, a church often has to not only grow as from scratch, but to overcome forces of stasis and decline. For example, within the last 10 years, Calvary in East Brunswick NJ declined from almost 1300 to 450 but has now recovered to over 1000 AWA, which is quite unusual.

Sustained Growth

The remaining 15 churches on the list are notable for their steady growth. This begs the question, what sort of rate should a growing church expect?

Among the top 200 churches in overall size, the average annual growth rate is under 1%; among the top 100,  it is 3%.

While the top 25 chart is based on a 5-year trend, here’s a short list of the top 10 churches with the highest annual growth over a 10-year period:

  1. Harvest, Warner Robins GA, Jim Cowart, 12.2% annual growth
  2. The Chapel, Brunswick, GA, Jay Hanson, 11.9%
  3. Faithbridge, Spring TX, Ken Werlein, 10.4%
  4. Crossroads, Oakdale PA, Steve Cordle, 10.2%
  5. First, Mansfield TX, David Alexander, 10.2%
  6. Morning Star, O’Fallon MO, Mike Schreiner, 9.8%
  7. Commuity of Hope Loxahatchee FL, Dale Locke, 9.8%
  8. Christ, Fairview Heights IL, Shane Bishop, 9.6%
  9. Covenant, Greenville SC, Darren Hook, 8.4%
  10. First, McKinney TX, Thomas Brumett, 7.2%

When analyzed on an annual basis over a 10-year period, it’s clear how incredibly difficult it is to maintain a sustained high annual growth rate. Only 5 churches in American United Methodism have been able to maintain a 10% or higher annual growth rate over the past decade. Hats off to these remarkable congregations.

Pastoral Leadership

The average leadership tenure among the top 25 is 13 years, which is the same as last year. Five senior pastors have been at their churches at least 20 years and five from 15-20 years. The most common first year of pastoral leadership among the top 25 churches is 2011.

In last year’s comments several people asked about women in leadership. While none of this year’s top 25 churches are led by women, if you expand the list to the top 40 fastest growing churches, which includes all churches who have grown by a total of at least 10% over the last five years, the list includes two churches currently led by women: Mary Jan Davis of Central in Fayetteville, AR, and Linda Harker of McFarlin Memorial in Norman, OK. Further, among the top 100 churches in United Methodism, four are led by women – Davis; Jennifer Stiles-Williams at St Luke’s in Orlando; Robyn Miller at Woods Chapel in Lee’s Summit, MO; and Jessica Moffatt at First in Tulsa.

Honorable Mentions

At their current trajectory, five churches will crack next year’s list: The Gathering Place in Moody, AL; Destin in Pensacola, FL; Community in Fruitland Park, FL; St. John’s in Aiken, SC; and Heritage in Van Buren, AR. The latter four haven’t reached the 1000 AWA plateau to make the list, and the The Gathering Place is already at 1410 in AWA but isn’t yet 5 years old. At its current rate of growth, The Gathering Place will debut in the top 5 next year.


About the top 200 churches

In the course of tracking growing churches, I’ve now accumulated 10 years of attendance data for the largest 250 American United Methodist churches (as some churches rise and fall from the list over time). The additional data reveals some interesting insights.

The Midpoint of the top 200

Here are some median statistics for the top 200 churches.

  • Average pastor tenure: 10 years
  • Weekly worship attendance: 1233
  • Annual budget: $2,745,000
  • Annual growth (10-years): 1.5%

The Biggest Churches

A megachurch is generally considered a congregation that averages at least 2000 in average weekly worship. By this measure, 39 United Methodist congregations are megachurches, with a few more that are very close. 10 years ago, there were only 31 United Methodist megachurches.

Further, ten years ago, the average weekly worship of the top 100 United Methodist churches was 1976. Now, it is 2104.

Seven of the 10 largest overall churches, and 13 of 25, grew last year.


A postscript: I post this data because I believe its helpful for my tribe, United Methodism, to use it in order 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 two specific strategies for growth: creative expression and storytelling. My hope is that the church will fully comprehend the power of creativity and story in sharing the story of Jesus with the world.


This list first appeared at


About the Author

Len Wilson

11 Comments on “Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2017 Edition”

  1. Seems you haven’t considered any UMC churches in the west. I belong to St Andrew UMC in CO. Our membership is approximately 2000 and growing.

    1. KLC, thanks for writing. The data includes all U.S. jurisdictions, and measures attendance, not membership. At the end of 2015, your church reported membership of 2138 and average weekly worship attendance of 990.

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  5. Hi Len,
    It is sad to learn that The Orchard is no longer United Methodist. Don’t know if it’s official yet, but the exit agreement has been worked out with that AC.

  6. Hi Len I’m Ron. It may show up as my wife Michele as I don’t use Facebook but I saw this and felt I needed to reply. I’m a umc pastor for over 23 years. Please don’t take my words in a hurtful manner to your research – I don’t mean any harm in my thoughts- just my opinion is what I’m trying to share. Question: how much of the “growth” is simply pew shifters? I know one of the churches on the list very well and it has grown substantially through folks who simply left their former church for greener pastures. Many many studies continue to reveal that the church in America is in steep decline with the lowest percentage of people who attend church in our nations history. Also, the actual growth of a church through new conversions of unchurched non believers is estimated to be around 3%. We are clearly losing the battle of reaching the lost for Christ. For me personally, I find the sharing of the “top 25” to nurture a spirit of competitiveness among the body with the top 25 being the obvious winners and the rest of us the losers. I feel it fosters pride and a worldly approach to what is supposed to a spirit of unity and oneness in Christ. Thank you for the opportunity to respond. Sincerely meant to be helpful and not hurtful, in Christ, Ron.

    1. Ron, thanks for your thoughts. This isn’t a perfect measure. On the whole, however, I think the positives of celebrating churches that are doing well outweigh the negatives, partly because of the very decline of which you mention. Methodism began as a renewal movement and our nation’s history is closely intertwined with its success. Imperfect as the list may be, the stories contained in it are carrying on the same spirit of renewal.

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