Church attendance in America is on the rise, with more than one and a half million people now attending 100 of America’s largest churches.
Small churches out number U.S. megachurches nine to one. Each has their own unique local and global tasks. When John Vaughan, founder of Church Growth Today (1980), wrote the book, The World’s 20 Largest Churches (1985), there were only 27 known non-Catholic churches in the world with 6,000 plus weekend attendance. Eleven were in the United States. Today, more than 200 in the U.S. are that large.
By the year 2000 the Springfield, Missouri, researcher reported the 100 largest churches grew to 4,000 attendance. They then doubled in size and the smallest of the 100 largest by 2010 increased to 8,000 weekend attendance. Today, Vaughan reports, the 100 largest of the 1,742 non-Catholic megachurches (Hartford has 1,467) begin at 9,000 attendance and the 200 largest begin at 6,000 attendance.
Houston’s Lakewood Church, led by Joel Osteen, is the nation’s largest single-site church with 52,000 in weekend attendance. That’s a five year gain of 7,200 since 2010 and five times the size of the church led by his father and founding pastor John Osteen who died in 1999.
These are seismic trends when you realize that in 2015 just the 10 largest churches had a weekend attendance of 359,250 and the 100 had 1,626,707 people. That is huge! That is almost 100,000 more than reported by Hartford Institute in May, 2016, and 551,126 more than reported by Outreach magazine in 2015 who used 5,269 attendance as the baseline attendance for their top 100.
Church Growth Today reports 27 new megachurches since 2010 and 39 that dropped below 2,000 attendance. Vaughan established 2,000 attendance as the baseline attendance for megachurches in 1985.
Few others had used the term megachurch and none had established a specific standard numerical benchmark. 2,000 is now the metric adopted by most researchers and major global news media. This newest research indicates that among the 100 largest churches 60 percent are growing, 20 percent have plateaued, and only 11 percent have decreased in attendance during the past five years.
Multi-site locations are a major contributor to much of the gains in attendance. Three in four of the 100 largest churches are multi-site congregations. One in four, including Lakewood Church, are single-site churches. Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma, a congregation of an estimated 10,000 attendance, is the national multi-site church leader with 70,000 attending 21 sites in seven states.
Multi-site locations are a 100 year old idea but this idea was rejected in the U.S. as recently as 1985 when nine of the 20 churches in the book, The World’s 20 Largest Churches, reported having satellite locations. The global leaders, since the 1960s, were in Korea and South America. By year 2,000 the International Megachurch Research Center, a part of Church Growth Today research, knew that the U.S. had more megachurches than Korea. Korea had 24 and America had 74 megachurches. Korean churches, however, were still larger.
U.S. megachurch attendance, by global standards even by 1999 standards, are still smaller. In 1999, Church Growth Today had already identified 10 churches outside the U.S. with 30,000 weekend attendance. The three largest were Yoido Full Gospel Church-Seoul, Korea (180,000), Vision de Futuro-Santa Fe, Argentina (80,000), and Deeper Christian Life Ministry – Lagos, Nigeria (70,000). Africa is projected to be the most populated Christian continent by 2020. Africa already has more than 15 churches reporting more than 20,000 attendance. What many American church leaders think of as unique recent American creativity and innovation has been known in other global megachurches as simply old school survival strategies for several decades.
What about the next decade? Vaughan, with the Springfield, Missouri based Church Growth Today has already identified the next 150 potential emerging 9,000 attendance megachurches, their geography, and their rates of growth. There are, as never before, an abundance of capable pastors able to lead these churches in the next generation.
About Church Growth Today – Church Growth Today, located in Springfield, Missouri, is a church growth research center founded in 1980 by Dr. John N. Vaughan and specializes in U.S. and global megachurches. International Megachurch Research Center was created in 1985 under Church Growth Today specifically for global megachurch research already begun by Church Growth Today.