Large churches

Leadership Network has just released the results of a study of large churches (defined as those with a weekly attendance in excess of 2,000 people). You can download a copy here.

Apparently about 10% of the protestants who attended church on Sunday did so in a large congregation. It’s interesting to note that the average church size in the United States is about 100.

Here’s what they discovered about large churches:

• These churches are wired. While 88% say their church/pastoral leadership uses Facebook or other social media on a regular basis, nearly three-fourths do podcasts and 56% blog.

• Multisite interest has grown dramatically. Half are multisite with another 20% thinking about it.

• Growth is steady. Despite occasional news reports that large churches are a Boomer phenomenon or are now in decline, a steady growth pattern remains evident, with these churches averaging 8% growth per year for last five years. Thus the stated average attendance for these churches grew from 2,604 in 2005 to 3,597 in 2010.

• The leader at the helm makes all the difference. Seventy-nine percent say the church’s most dramatic growth occurred during tenure of current senior pastor.

• Worship options extend beyond Sunday morning. While virtually all have multiple Sunday morning services, 48% have one or more Saturday night services, and 41% have one or more Sunday night services.

• They are both big and small. Eighty-two percent say small groups are “central to our strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation,” and 72% put a “lot of emphasis” on “Scripture studies other than Sunday school.” They report that 46% of their attenders are involved in small groups.

• They have a high view of their own spiritual vitality. An overwhelming 98% agree that their congregations are “spiritually alive and vital.” In addition, 98% say they have strong beliefs and values, 95% say they have a clear mission, and 93% say they are willing to change to meet new challenges.

• Newcomer orientation is constant. Forty percent of regular participants age 18 and older are new to the congregation in the last five years. And 70% of participants are under the age of 50.

• The dominant identity is “evangelical.” Of eight options offered, the majority chose the word evangelical to identify their theological outlook.  Interestingly, barely 1% chose labels at the two theological extremes – either fundamentalist or liberal.

• The vast majority do not have serious financial struggles. Only 6% say church’s financial health is in some or serious difficulty (and only 7% said that for five years previously). However, half adversely felt the effects of the economic crisis and 5% fewer report their financial health as “excellent” compared to five years ago.

• Staffing costs are comparable to those of other churches. Forty-eight percent of the average large church’s total expenditures go to salary and benefits.

• They are not independent. Seventy percent say their church is part of a denomination, network, fellowship, or association of churches. For those who are currently non-denominational, 33% say they were once part of a denomination.

Several of these findings surprised me. Did any of them take you by surprise? If so, which ones?