Church attendance in advanced industrial societies is in gradual general decline with people shifting from weekly to monthly or holiday attendance. Sociologists have attributed this trend to a number of reasons, starting from a simple boredom during services and lack of motivation, to generational incompatibility of belief systems and social changes attributed to modernity. Research across 65 different nations showed that out of 20 advanced industrial countries – 16 demonstrated a declining rate of monthly church attendance. An article published in the Christianity Today Magazine emphasized that at least in America church attendance since the 1990s has remained stable. Indeed, 50% of Americans replied that God is very important in their lives, comparing with 40% of Irish, 28% of Canadians, 26% of Spaniards, 21% of Australians, and 10% of the French.
What is Going on with the Church in America?
The United States Census Bureau Records give some startling statistics, backed up by denominational reports and the Assemblies of God U.S. Missions:
- Every year more than 4000 churches close their doors compared to just over 1000 new church starts!
- There were about 4,500 new churches started between 1990 and 2000, with a twenty year average of nearly 1000 a year.
- Every year, 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. This translates into the realization that people are leaving the church. From our research, we have found that they are leaving as hurting and wounded victims-of some kind of abuse, disillusionment, or just plain neglect!
- From 1990 to 2000, the combined membership of all Protestant denominations in the USA declined by almost 5 million members (9.5 percent), while the US population increased by 24 million (11 percent).
- At the turn of the last century (1900), there was a ratio of 27 churches per 10,000 people, as compared to the close of this century (2000) where we have 11 churches per 10,000 people in America! What has happened?
- Given the declining numbers and closures of Churches as compared to new church starts, there should have been over 38,000 new churches commissioned to keep up with the population growth.
- The United States now ranks third (3rd) following China and India in the number of people who are not professing Christians; in other words, the U.S. is becoming an ever increasing “un-reached people group.”
- Half of all churches in the US did not add any new members to their ranks in the last two years.
Practice of religion according to practice of parents (%)
|Practice of parents||Practice of parents||Practice of children||Practice of children||Practice of children|
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshiper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between half and two-thirds of their offspring will attend church regularly or occasionally.
16 TRENDS IN AMERICAN CHURCHES IN 2016:
- Church security as the fastest growing ministry. Shootings in churches and sex abuse of children mandate this unfortunate trend. No church can afford to be without serious security measures, policies, and equipment. It will evolve into a major church ministry.
- Decrease in worship center size and capacity. The large worship gathering is not as popular as it has been. Through multiple services and multiple sites, churches will follow this preference with smaller capacity worship centers.
- Increase in successfully revitalized churches. More church leaders sense a call to lead revitalized churches. Because of this desire and intentionality, we will see more success stories of churches that have experienced significant revitalization.
- Rapid growth of coaching ministries for pastors and church staff. The current trend is anecdotal, but it will soon be verified and obvious. Pastors and staff who have the humility to be led, and the willingness to invest resources in coaching are becoming the most effective church leaders.
- Increase in the numbers of churches in gentrified communities. Thousands of older urban communities are becoming revitalized. Churches are following the increased numbers of residents to these communities.
- Increased emphasis on practical ministry training. Church leaders in America have seen a much needed two-decade renewal of training in classical disciplines and doctrine. That need remains, but more leaders are crying for training in leadership, relational skills, and other practical ministries.
- Increasing emphasis on groups in churches. Church leaders are getting it. When church members are a part of some type of group, such as a small group or Sunday school class, they attend more faithfully, evangelize more frequently, and give more abundantly.
- Fewer segregated churches. For most of American history, 11:00 am on Sunday was the most segregated hour of the week. That is changing. A church that is not racially and ethnically diverse will soon become the exception instead of the norm.
- The rise of the mini-denomination church. This trend is an acceleration of the increased number of multi-site churches. As churches grow with four or more sites, they will take on some of the characteristics of a denomination.
- Increased pastoral tenure. For a number of reasons, the tenure of a pastor at a given church will increase. More pastors will make it to the five-year mark where the most fruitful years of ministry typically begin.
- Rise of alternative ministry placement organizations. Old and existing systems of how churches find prospective pastors and staff are falling apart. They are being replaced with effective and independent ministry search organizations.
- Increase in the number of Millennials who are Christians. I am projecting the number to increase from 15 percent of the generation to 18 percent of the generation. That is an increase of 2.3 million Millennials who will become believers in 2016.
- Accelerated decline of 100,000 American congregations. Historically, American congregations have been tenacious and survived beyond most expectations. That reality is no longer true. Ineffective churches will decline rapidly as churchgoers are unwilling to be a part of congregations that are not making a difference.
- Churches no longer viewed favorably by many governmental units. As a consequence, it will become increasingly difficult for churches to expand their physical facilities or to be able to hold functions in the community.
- More bivocational pastors and staff. This trend is increasingly becoming the result of choices by pastors and staff, rather than financial limitations of congregations.
- Dramatic changes in senior adult ministries. The baby boomers will not participate in the way most churches do senior adult ministry. They will force change, particularly from the entertainment model to an activist model.
7 Facts in Church Attendance in America Today:
- Less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church—half of what the pollsters report.
- American church attendance is steadily declining.
- Only one state is outpacing its population growth – Hawaii
- Mid-sized churches are shrinking; the smallest and largest churches are growing.
- Established churches—40 to 190 years old—are, on average, declining.
- The increase in churches is only 1/4 of what’s needed to keep up with population growth.
- By 2050, the percentage of the U.S. population attending church will be almost half of what it was in 1990.
Church Growth Today’s 100 Largest Churches in 2016 List Begins at 9,000 Average Attendance – A Seismic Trend Since Year 2000
SPRINGFIELD, Mo., Sept. 12, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ — America’s small churches under 400 attendance still dominate the nation’s church landscape both in number of churches and in total attendance. The number of the smaller churches still make up more than 90 percent of all U.S. congregations. John Vaughan (photo), founder ofChurch Growth Today research and consulting in Springfield, Missouri, has listed and ranked both America’s 100 largest and 100 fastest growing evangelical and Protestant churches since 1980. His 2016 Church Growth Today 100 largest churches list also includes the 200 fastest growing churches by actual attendance gain (net). Average weekend attendance for the 100 largest churches list begins at 9,000 and the 200 largest churches list begins at 6,000 attendance.
While most smaller churches with less than 1,000 will never become megachurches, they can be encouraged that churches their size can actually have more overall attendance gain (i.e. net) than many megachurches. In the Church Growth Today 100 fastest growing churches list actual gain begins at 500 people and the 200 fastest growing churches list begins at an annual gain of 200 in weekend attendance.
These two lists reveal that actual attendance gain is not the exclusive domain of megachurches who can have great growth but have more losses than gains. A church’s ability to multiply new leaders and new groups, in proportion to their size, can be a major factor. Creation of additional worship services may increase attendance but involvement in groups retains the new growth. Smaller churches tend to have fewer additional services and are able to assimilate a higher percentage of their attendance gains. So smaller churches can excel as they reach new people and care for existing members.
That said, the actual average attendance of the smallest among America’s 100 largest churches has experienced seismic gains since year 2000. A top 100 church that had 4,000 attendance could be among the 100 largest churches but by 2010 needed 8,000 to be among that group. The average size doubled mostly due to the addition of multi-site locations created by new churches and three in four of the largest churches. Multi-site churches, among these evangelical, Protestant, and non-affiliated gatherings, increased by 10 percent (up from 66 percent in 2010).
There were 329 multi-site campuses in 2010 compared to 511 in 2015 (a gain of 182 sites or 64 percent). Ten of the 2015 churches each reported having 10 or more multi-site campus worship locations. Life.Church of Edmond, Oklahoma, has 70,000 attending 21 locations (micro-churches) in seven states. Christ the King Church in Burlington, Washington, has at least 23,400 in their small church groups network.
The Wesleyan denomination has a Native American Lakota pastor, Larry Salway of He Sapa New Life Church (Rapid City SD), reaching 7,437 people in nearly 300 house churches scattered over a 250 mile area. A first among American tribal groups. They also minister to tribal groups in Alaska, Washington State, New York and Arizona. That represents a lot of changed lives.
The number of multi-site churches drops to almost half among the 200 largest churches (75% among America’s 100 largest churches to 65% among the 200 largest churches.). The largest church in the nation, Houston’s Lakewood Church led by Joel Osteen, is the largest of the single-site churches and largest American church under one roof with 52,000 weekend attendance (44,800 in 2010). Single –site churches total 24 among the 100 largest churches and 69 churches among the 200 largest congregations. Multi-site churches have more than a 100 year history in North America. When Vaughan wrote his book, The World’s 20 Largest Churches(1985), nine of the 20 churches were multi-site churches.
Major shifts are trending among both small churches and American megachurches. These are seismic shifts since the 1980 book, The Complete Book of Church Growth (1981), by Elmer Towns and John Vaughan announced 2,000 attendance could include a church among the 100 largest churches. That was the first book to list the 100 largest churches in worship attendance, membership, Sunday school enrollment, Sunday school attendance, fastest growing Sunday churches, and income.