Nine out of ten.
That’s a lot.
Nine out of ten churches in America have an average worship attendance of less than 350. And that percentage has not changed significantly for many years. Yet the unchurched pool of persons is increasing in most communities. There are people yet to be reached.
But most churches will never exceed 350 in attendance. Why?
A Few Caveats
Allow me to preface my analysis. First, big is not necessarily better. A church with more people in attendance is not necessarily more faithful than a smaller church. Second, some churches are in very sparsely populated areas. There may not be 350 people in a five-mile radius (though every community still has people who need to be reached).
My third caveat is key. I believe leadership is indeed a biblical and theological issue. It’s really a matter of healthy stewardship. I offer this third caveat because I will be addressing the issue of leadership in this post.
Attendance Levels of Churches in America
We are a nation and continent of smaller churches. And though we have far more small churches than large churches, there is a big migration of people from smaller to larger churches. In other words, many of the smaller churches are getting smaller, and many of the larger churches are getting larger.
Here is a simple depiction of the number of churches at three different levels:
- 50% of all churches in America average less than 100 in worship attendance.
- 40% of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance.
- 10% of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance.
Keep in mind that the upper 10% tend to include more of the growing churches, while the lower 90% tend to include more of the declining churches.
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Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.