Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2019 Edition

Len WilsonChurch, Innovation, Leadership, Strategic Thinking6 Comments


 Welcome to this year’s edition of the fastest growing large United Methodist churches. Because of the work of the General Council of Finance and Administration office of the United Methodist Church, I am now able to work backwards two more years, which means I now have worship attendance records among large United Methodist congregations dating back to 2004, which is 14 years of quantitative records in one very large spreadsheet. I have also begun to track giving and groups data.

Why I Do Fastest-Growing Large Churches Research

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

I have often been asked why I do this. The backstory to this annual list is the growth I witnessed while serving on staff at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio. From 1995, the year I joined the staff as the church’s first “Media Minister” (a termed I made up but which didn’t stick), through 1998, we were witness to an incredible period of explosive growth – from roughly 1000 to 3000 in average worship attendance in less than 3 years. In my youth and inexperience, I thought such growth was normal. Later, I began tracking the growth patterns of other churches: how often do churches explode in growth like we did? I have since realized that what happened may have been the most explosive in-venue burst of worship attendance growth in Methodism in the last 40 years. So this research is in some way personal – I want to understand and contextualize what happened during a remarkable time.

Help Define The Word “Growth”

Over the course of the past several years, I have received comments against this list from a variety of sources using a variety of counter claims. One of those counter claims is that worship attendance is a poor measure of congregational growth. I agree that worship attendance doesn’t capture the full picture. Rather than engage in debate about the merit of worship attendance as a measure of growth, however, I’d like to analyze this phenomenon at a deeper level. I would like to ask you to join with me. Together, let’s create a good definition of growth. How do you define the word “growth”? I am referring to the use of the word not just in relationship to this list, but in ministry and in life. Submit your definition here. I will publish results in a future post.

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 Average Worship Attendance (AWA) at the end of 2017, which is the most recent full year of official records, and cannot have experienced year-to-year decline in the previous two years: in other words, the church needs to have reported growth in 2015, 2016 and 2017. 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 2018 edition, the 2017 edition, the 2016 edition, the 2015 edition and the 2011 edition.

Rank Church Name City State Sr Pastor 2017 AWA Rank by size 5 Yr Annualized Growth Last Year
1 Community of Hope Loxahatchee Groves FL Dale Locke 1,646 51 20.7% 4
2 Providence Church Mt. Juliet TN Jacob Armstrong 1,578 58 15.3% 2
3 The Gathering Saint Louis MO Matt Miofsky 1,316 78 13.1% 3
4 Mt. Horeb Lexington SC Jeff Kersey 2,879 12 12.8%
5 Impact Atlanta GA Olu Brown 2,350 25 12.2% 5
6 Sun City Center Sun City Center FL Charles Rentz 1,274 86 10.1% 8
7 St. Luke’s Oklahoma City OK Bob Long 2,015 37 9.0% 7
8 Crosspoint Niceville FL Rurel Ausley 3,806 8 9.0% 6
9 Covenant Dothan AL Hays McKay 1,600 56 8.2% 18
10 Evangelical (EUM) Greenville OH Jeff Harper 1,249 92 8.1% 9
11 Cokesbury Knoxville TN Stephen Defur 4,326 6 7.7% 11
12 The Chapel Brunswick GA Jay Hanson 1,335 75 7.7% 16
13 The Korean Church Atlanta Duluth GA William Sei-Hwan Kim 2,087 34 7.2%
14 Christ Fairview Heights IL Shane Bishop 2,396 22 6.8% 12
15 New Covenant The Villages FL Harold Hendren 2,630 14 6.8% 10
16 First Jonesboro Jonesboro AR John Miles 1,361 74 5.9%
17 St. Luke’s Houston TX Tom Pace 2,370 23 5.3%
18 Belin Memorial Murrells Inlet SC Mike Alexander 1,182 108 5.0%
19 Edenton Street Raleigh NC Bob Bauman 1,510 62 3.8%
20 Cornerstone Caledonia MI Brad Kalajainen 1,972 40 3.5% 20
21 Peachtree Road Atlanta GA Bill Britt 1,794 46 3.4%
22 St. Timothy North Shore Mandeville LA James Mitchell 2,415 17 3.2%
23 First Clermont Clermont FL Doug Kokx 1,038 140 3.1%
24 St. Paul’s Joplin MO Aaron Brown 1,010 147 2.9%
25 Good Shepherd Charlotte NC Talbot Davis 2,040 35 2.6% 19

Fastest Growing Churches Analysis

New, Returning and Sustaining Churches

Just as with last year’s list, ten churches on the list are new this year. The high turnover rate – 40% two years in a row – reflects both the rigorous standards I use for this list (see above for methodology) and the difficulty of maintaining a percentage based growth pattern over the course of several years: the bigger you get, the hardest it is to grow at the same percentage basis.

It also highlights the fruitfulness of a select few churches on this list that have been able to maintain steady growth for over a decade now – in some cases, double digit annual growth percentage.

Of the ten new churches, only one returned to the list after dropping off in a previous year: St. Timothy on the North Shore in Mandeville, LA, outside of New Orleans. Nine are completely new to the list: Mt. Horeb; The Korean Church Atlanta; First Jonesboro; St. Luke’s Houston; Belin Memorial; Edenton Street; Peachtree Road; First Clermont; and St. Paul’s, Joplin, MO.

One church appears on the list for the 2nd consecutive year, four for the 3rd year, two for the 4th year, and five for the 5th 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 sustained a continuous, uninterrupted pattern of growth for at least 12 years. According to Bishop, as of the end of 2017, Christ Church has experienced 22 straight years of sustained growth. I asked him for his definition of growth. He said, “Empirical evidence of effectiveness in the pursuit of our mission.” (Submit yours above!)

Case Study of Mt. Horeb

The highest ranked new church on the list is Mt. Horeb, in Lexington, SC, pastored by Jeff Kersey, with Nate Gibson as Director of Business Operations. I contacted them to inquire about their growth, which was substantial: they reported 1,732 at the end of 2016 and 2,879 at the end of 2017. About the big jump, Nate said that the 2017 worship number added children under 5 and student worship numbers. The breakdown is as follows:  2017 increase in adults in worship: 394. 2017 increase with addition of children under 18: 753.

A few comments here. Since these numbers are self-reporting, any church is free to include or not include children under 18 in their worship figures. This decision may be theological or practical or both. Regardless, a church can only make this jump once, and the apportionments (money) the church pays to the denomination is based on worship attendance, so such jumps are disincentivized. One of the reasons for the 5-year annual growth average as the basis for this list is to mitigate the impact of such decisions while comparing attendance patterns across churches. And, by the way, an increase in 394 adults in one year is a massive jump.

Nate also said,

In general, we attract an average of 35 new visitors per week now. That has remained pretty consistent since the new building opened.  My educated guess with the large increase from 2015 – 2016 – 2017 (we opened the building in Sept. 2016) is the space was so crammed prior to opening the new building – most people probably didn’t come that regularly as it was really uncomfortable to find a parking spot, get into children’s ministry and find a seat in worship.  Back then we had a Saturday night contemporary service, two Sunday traditional services with a shortened contemporary services sandwiched between them. Since opening the new building – we have 2 traditional services in the Sanctuary and 2 contemporary services in the Auditorium that run concurrently… The biggest struggle left is maturing our systems and scale to accommodate the size of organization we are today, which is a big emphasis of our strategic planning we’ve walked through in latter 2018, into the first quarter of 2019.

I include Nate’s full comments because it seems highly relevant in the context of researching congregational growth. The Acts of the Apostles reported 3000 in one day. The administrators working in that early environment must have been overwhelmed! I have observed that the experience of churches today is that it is extremely difficult to grow quickly, because attendance often outpaces the ability of the church to adequately grow community and respond to people’s needs. As Nate notes, the challenge is to grow in such a way that systems can keep up.

The midpoint of the top 200

There are a total of 37 churches that average at least 2000 in worship each weekend (same as last year), and 150 that average at least 1000 in worship (down from 163 last year). The median worship attendance of the top 200 church is 1,193 a weekend, and the median top 200 church is holding steady from last year last year, at a 5-year annual growth pattern of -0.3%. The median top 200 church budget is $2,892, 441 and the median top 200 church debt load is $1,714, 443, both slight improvements over last year.

Honorable Mentions

A few churches that did not make this list are worth noting. Charter Oak, a multi-site church in Western PA, reported 996 in worship in 2017. Their 5-year annual growth rate of 6.1% would have placed them in the top 25 if they’d had 4 more people. Crossroads, also in Western PA, just missed the cut and has appeared on this list before. Covenant in Greenville, SC, and Christ in Myrtle Beach, SC, both reported declines in 2015 but show a 5% annual growth rate over the last five years and would otherwise make this list. Central in Fayetteville, AR, pastored by Mary Jan Davis, showed 5% growth in 2017 after a slight decline in 2016 and at an AWA of 1,793 is the largest church in size pastored by a female.

More Research Coming

As part of my ongoing research into fast growing large United Methodist churches, I conducted a survey of the largest 200 United Methodist congregations in the United States in the fall of 2018. In the survey I inquired about most effective ministries, least effective ministries, areas of future growth, and definitions of discipleship and the kingdom of God. I will publish these results in a future post.

 

A postscript: I post this data because I believe its helpful for my tribe, United Methodism, to better live out our collective calling in ministry. 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 large-C 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-2019/

 

About the Author

Len Wilson

6 Comments on “Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, 2019 Edition”

  1. Pingback: Mt. Horeb UMC makes list of Top 25 Fastest Growing UMCs | The Columbia District

  2. Pingback: Blog Update 2019 | Len Wilson

  3. Hi Brother Len, You are doing a great service for the kingdom by compiling such a list that enables others to glean some important principles and practices to better grow their own churches. I travel the nation as an Ambassador for Asbury Theological Seminary and have had an opportunity to meet some of these pastors and even worship in some of their churches. I am thrilled to see what the Holy Spirit is doing today. To God be the glory!

  4. Pingback: Churches in the Southeast and with Orthodox Pastors Lead Top-growing Large United Methodist Congregations - Juicy Ecumenism

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