Monday, December 21, 2020

What’s a Healthy Way to Dramatically Increase a Church’s Financial Giving?


By Warren Bird, Ph.D.


Did you know that the more your church involves its people in small groups, the more its financial giving will increase?

This finding comes from research ECFA helped conduct on megachurches—the largest study ever conducted on large churches across the U.S. (See below for details on how to download our entire research report.)

The use of small groups has long been a hallmark of megachurches—the idea of distinct units within the greater church where people know each other personally and participate in various kinds of spiritual ministries. Their purpose can include fellowship, spiritual nurture, ministry, and/or religious education. They might be called names like: Sunday school classes, Bible studies, missional teams, home groups, community groups, discipleship groups, or any number of other terms.

ECFA’s landmark survey found that small-group practice continues to increase dramatically, but also that the impact on spiritual health through the use of small groups is profound. When asked if small groups are central to their strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation, an astounding 90% of megachurches said “Yes” (see the first graphic.)

This percentage has steadily grown over the years. For example, back in 2000, only 50% of megachurches said yes to the same question.

When asked what percentage of the church’s adult participants are typically involved in a small group, the response in 2020 was a median of 45%. In 2015, the median was 40%. This increased priority given to small groups, is evident in the growing percentage of adults who are involved in small groups within their congregations. Small group participation is directly related to a number of positive trends for the congregation. As the second graphic illustrates, the more adults in small groups, the greater the church’s growth rate.

The churches with the highest percentage of their congregation active in their small groups were also more likely to say they had larger percentages of their members volunteering regularly at church, recruiting new people, sharing their faith with those not a part of the congregation, being new to the congregation in the last 5 years—and, as introduced above, giving financially to the church. These are noteworthy findings!

Just how much more do small group members give to their church? On average 9%. That percentage would be a meaningful boost to any church's budget.

Read the Entire “The Changing Reality in America’s Largest Churches” Report

ECFA’s “The Changing Reality in America’s Largest Churches” report runs 22 pages and is the largest national study EVER of trends in U.S. megachurches. If you want other ministry friends to download it (hint, hint), it’s free at


Friday, October 30, 2020

Did You Know That Per-Capita Giving is HIGHER in Churches with Annual Audits and Independent Boards?

 By Warren Bird, Ph.D.


Do your church's governance and financial management models help or hurt per capita giving?

ECFA just released news that I believe will be extremely relevant to large churches. My "Did you know" headline is part of that news. 

To explain it further: if a large church has an annual audit performed, per capita giving goes up. Likewise, if the majority of its governance board is independent (i.e., a majority of the board is both non-family and non-staff), per capita giving goes up.

As the graphic below illustrates: if a large church is building member commitment through an emphasis on personal practices of spiritual growth, through involvement in the life of the congregation through attendance and small group, and through reinforcing the commitment to of fiscal integrity and trust, the per capital giving is likely to increase. 


This is only one of our findings: ECFA's “Megachurch 2020” report runs 22 pages and is the largest national study EVER of trends in U.S. megachurchesIt highlights 24 specific research findings that include answers to these questions:

     • What works best in megachurches to increase spiritual vitality?

• What have megachurches done to become so multiracial?

• How does small group involvement increase spiritual formation and church growth in megachurches?

• What decreases per capita giving in megachurches? What specifically increases it?

• Does your governance and financial management model help or hurt per capita giving?

• Are megachurches growing more by multiple services, multiple campuses, church planting, or church mergers?

• What year in megachurches is the peak growth era under the same senior pastor?

• What happens in a megachurch after the pastor who led during the church’s greatest growth era retires?

Part of the fun of this blog is the participation of our readers!  Truly, I welcome your comments and questions about this blog and about the entire report.

Download the entire report (free) at Please alert ministry friends as well.

Friday, July 31, 2020

What’s New in Megachurches 2020? (Part 1)

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

 Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, ECFA co-sponsored a survey of large churches. We received a delightful amount of responses, with insights from more than 1 in 4 of the country’s megachurches. It’s a survey conducted every 5 years (2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and now 2020), asking many of the same core questions in order to get a sense of change over time.

Next month this blog will begin to unveil the findings from the survey itself. Forecast: The fascinating trends uncovered include dramatic growth in the number of multiracial megachurches and in the role of small groups. Church mergers and multisite expansion are likewise experiencing a dramatic increase among megachurches. We also asked questions about megachurch financial accountability and boards, issues of particular concern to ECFA. Much news to come!

For now, let me put the idea of megachurches in context, drawing from research I did during my days at Leadership Network (see the collection of articles at

What is a megachurch? The widely accepted definition is a Protestant church with a weekly attendance of 2,000 or more adults and children.

How many megachurches are there? The United States has roughly 1,750 megachurches. That’s only 0.5% of the total number of Protestant churches, and yet among Protestants who physically attended church prior to the pandemic, almost 1 in 10 went to a megachurch.

Are megachurches like other Protestant churches, where 4 in 5 are plateaued or declining? No. It’s just the opposite. The vast majority of megachurches are growing, many at a very fast clip.

Are megachurches fading away as a Baby Boomer phenomenon? No. Not only do megachurch pastors span several generations (currently from ages 33 to 88), but the numbers of younger attenders and single adults are quite impressive. The larger the church, the greater the percentage of young adults who go there on average.

How new is the idea of a megachurch? History has known of many churches that drew thousands, such as the congregations led by Charles Spurgeon in London or D.L. Moody in Chicago. What’s new in the last few decades is the reality that they are now widespread and far more common, found in most large cities and in many suburbs.

Are megachurches unique to the United States? Definitely not. The megachurch movement first took off in Korea. The world’s largest megachurch sanctuary is in Nigeria, seating 50,000. Dozens of countries have megachurches, many with megachurches far larger than the largest U.S. megachurches.

Why do people study megachurches? Larger churches are often innovation leaders and they also tend to be disproportionately influential over churches of other sizes. They also tend to be the churches that the public media highlights—for good or for bad!

Are megachurches members of ECFA? Yes. Around half of the 100-largest U.S. churches have been ECFA accredited, which means the church has agreed to follow ECFA’s integrity standards for churches, known as ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™. (Other-size churches are also among ECFA’s more than 2,400 members.)

Is a list of megachurches available? Yes. I’ve compiled a list of global megachurches at It contains a link to a list of US megachurches that I also helped compile. To learn if a specific church (megachurch or otherwise) is an ECFA member, see

Stay tuned … and look for “Part 2” of this blog, with specific findings from the research, slated to be posted by the end of August 2020.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

People Say They’re Growing Spiritually During Online Church—Will It Continue?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Have Christians grown in their faith during the recent “shelter in place” days when church buildings were closed?

The answer is YES, according to a recent survey of 2,948 Protestant churchgoers.

Pew Research compared two groups: those whose church pivoted to online services vs. those whose church didn’t offer online services. Those involved with churches that do offer weekly worship online are 13% more likely to say they’ve grown in their faith during this time.
Did the online worship cause spiritual growth? Not necessarily. But it’s fair to conclude that online worship is in some way associated with spiritual growth.

Online Worship Is Here to Stay – Even After the Pandemic

Most church leaders have decided that their commitment to quality online worship services must continue even after churches begin to re-gather in person (let’s avoid the term “re-open,” which wrongly implies that the church closed during the pandemic). Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church and popular writer, calls this future a “both-and church.” Tan Seow How, a megachurch pastor in Singapore, says in his blog, “Churches now have two storefronts—physical and digital….The future belongs to churches who can do both online and in-person services well … [and] who can clearly differentiate the purposes, audiences, content and elements for both platforms.”

The most compelling reason I’ve heard for continuing a quality emphasis on internet services is evangelism. It’s not to keep people online, but to catch people when they are online! It’s an empowerment tool for followers of Jesus to help their friends check out their churches—a contemporary version of “show and tell.” Churches are also reporting that their online services are making geography irrelevant in their outreach: through online services, they can literally connect with people around the world.

The Next “New Normal” for Online Service Metrics

What you count and what you celebrate creates your culture. An earlier issue of this blog analyzed How to Measure Online Attendance. My main point was the importance of measuring engagement. Engagers participate by liking, commenting, sharing, subscribing, making decisions (salvation, baptism, new-here forms), donating, and more–and my earlier blow includes a list of ten examples of measurable actions that attenders can potentially make during an online service. These are responses you can count and celebrate.

Now I’d like to push further: online church enables you to measure (i.e., to “count” and “celebrate”) in ways that in-person church cannot measure as cleanly. Could these be ways that we can discern where and how the Holy Spirit is at work in the people we seek to serve? Consider these helps in digital discipleship:

Action to Take

Remember that relationship always trumps technology, as Church Anywhere’s Tyler Sansom says. “If you can have a relationship with 50 people online, you have more of a shot of ever getting them into your church facility, if they live close enough, than if you have no relationship with 5,000 people who each watch online for 3 seconds,” he explains.

If the goal is spiritual growth continue from online services, then I believe it will happen only if your online services and metrics “drive engagement” rather than “feed consumption,” as Carey Nieuwhof describes it here and here. Again, please see my list of 10 online church “call to action” engagement points in a previous blog. While there, see also the conclusion of that blog for how ECFA can help you!

P.S. Hat Tip: I learn from many scholars of religion. I found the research above in Ryan Burge’s recent article, Survey Shows that Faith Can Prosper in Online Services. Take a look at @ryanburge on Twitter. To track Pew Research’s findings on Twitter see @PewReligion.

Monday, May 4, 2020

How to Measure Online Attendance?

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in churches at arguably the fastest rate in history! Back in 2015, megachurches led the church world in offering online church: 30% of megachurches offered an online campus experi­ence—defined as more than merely video streaming the service, by also including interactive features, staff involvement and online attender accountability. Half of the 30% had begun their online campus in 2012 or later. Roughly one in three (36%) of them had at least one full-time staff person dedicated to this “campus” which on average served a median of 300 persons weekly. Plus, an additional 18% said they were considering this approach, according to the same research report.

Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to find a large church that isn’t offering quality broadcasts with some level of interactivity, and on multiple mediums at that—such as the church webpage, Facebook Live, YouTube, Vimeo, and Roku. Whew!

If online attendance numbers are to be believed, more people heard the Gospel online on Easter Sunday 2020 than at any year in the history of Christianity. This raises two important questions: Why is measuring online attendance important? And what is the best way to measure online attendance?

What to Count?

At best, a church’s online presence is an on-ramp, says church commentator Karl Vaters. It’s the most important one we have during the pandemic, for sure. “But an on-ramp is not the endgame,” he affirms.

The danger here? Content consumption isn’t discipleship! It speaks to the same problem whether online or at an in-person church service. We’re not to be hearers alone, but doers. As James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Even more, we’re to be transformed and renewed (Romans 12:1-2) as we meet God afresh through worship, fellowship and teaching. The buzzword today for such interactions is: engagement.

Are You Offering Engagement -- A Clear and Constant Call to Action?

Consequently, I’m seeing more churches go beyond the “vanity metrics” of counting online viewership. In fact, many churches "count" their online audience size only as those who DO something as a result of the broadcast. Here are ten examples (all of which can be measured and counted):

“Go into our online prayer room after the service”

“Come to our ‘after party’ immediately after the service to meet other people and discuss the sermon”

“Download this resource for use during the week”

“Call a friend and [fill-in response relevant to the sermon], and then in your online small groups, tell each other how it went”

“Please let us get to know you better by filling out a digital welcome/connection card -- or text us your name”

“Take this online survey to find the way that you can best serve right now”

 "If you prayed to receive Christ, begin telling others by putting something in the chat"

 “Ask God what He wants you to give financially, and then do whatever He shows you -- you can give online, by text or by postal mail"

 "Like, comment or follow us online so that we can connect more personally with you"

“Sign up for a ‘meet the pastor webinar’ which temporarily replaces our ‘pizza with the pastor’ get-acquainted event”

People who do a lot of fishing have learned to try many different hooks, and to learn what works. That’s where your measurements and statistical analysis comes in.

How to Count?

The possibilities for counting are all over the map--causing many people to announce that their church has grown during the pandemic, but I'm not sure that's the case. Some count total number of views, including those that were there for only 3 seconds. Others count “quality views” defined as anyone who stays 15 minutes or longer. Others count only those who stay for the entire service? A few count whether people comment, make salvation decisions, or indicate other recordable decisions.

How many people are watching through each device? One estimate is 1.7 people.’s David Fletcher suggests a range: “Count 1.5 if your church has lots of single adults, and as high as 2.2 if you have lots of young families. Anything higher than 2.5 is probably speaking evangelistically—based on current metrics.” That said, according to a recent Barna ChurchPulse poll (a convenience sample, not a true representative sample), 23% of churches use a multiplier, and the average multiplier is 2.3.

Or you can follow the example of some churches, such as Atlanta’s Renovation Church which has a “Click to Watch Online” step that specifically asks you how many are viewing, and anything else viewers want to share about themselves. That’s one way to have an answer with integrity!

“Don’t be one-dimensional by measuring only one number,” says Kenny Jahng in an interview with Carey Nieuwhof. “Use as many numbers as you can to work toward greater engagement.”

Here’s how one of ECFA’s member churches, Mill City Church, measures their online participation:

As Justin Steinhart, Pastor of Administration explains, "One of the things we felt very intentional about in our online gatherings was that we wanted them to reflect the current state in which we lived. We wanted to have a high production value, but also not feel overly produced or to make it seem as though church hasn't changed along with the rest of the world. So while the message hasn't changed, the medium and the method has; for us this looked like filming in homes, outside for Easter, or having announcements look as though the person was "zooming" in. Having this vision for our online gatherings, then helped us to determine what we wanted to measure. We currently use Vimeo for our streaming services, and they, like most others, provide a number of statistics that you can almost get lost in. We decided to narrow our measurements on a few areas and additionally include some we found interesting:

• Regional views - we wanted to know, who of those within physical distance of attending our previously in-person gatherings, were continuing to join us online.

• Average Watched - this percentage represents the furthest point in the timeline a video is played per person divided by the total length of the video.

• Finishes - this number represents the people that watched the whole video from beginning to end.

• National and International - We found the inclusion of these numbers interesting, as they help us understand just how far of a digital reach we're currently having.

We intentionally left off impressions from our measurements (the number of times the player is loaded with the video), because while those numbers are fun to see (upwards of 10,000 or more), they didn't necessarily give us a good overall picture of the data we were looking for in terms of trying to measure online attendance/views."

ECFA Can Help You Do Other Integrity Standards Well

If this blog has interested you, it’s perhaps because you have a heart for reaching people, a desire to see growth, an interest in good metrics, and a value of integrity of reporting. All four of those themes match the kind of church that receives certification from ECFA. Several hundred churches are among our membership, including around 50 of the nation’s largest-attendance churches. 

Not only does ECFA certification show that you’re aligned with our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship, but we also equip your team in how to do integrity well. Our webinars, ebooks, podcasts and more cover the kind of topics you see in the graphic below.

Plus, this is an especially great time to learn more since we’re currently waiving the $500 application fee and providing 50% off the 2020 certification fee. Thanks to a generous grant from our friends at Lilly Endowment, ECFA is able to provide this opportunity to churches who are interested in becoming ECFA certified.  For more information on the “why” and “how” of certification, click here: or email

Monday, April 20, 2020

37% of Church Boards “Never” Talk about Pastoral Succession

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Did you hear about the senior pastor who just got hired by Zoom video? It was at a church I had previously chronicled as America’s oldest megachurch—Chicago’s 156-year-old Moody Church. It has stayed above the 2,000-attendance mark for more of its years than any other U.S. congregation.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, their pastoral candidate preached to the congregation online (using Zoom video). That was followed by a virtual question and answer session. Then the church held a “virtual” congregational meeting to conduct the vote (via Survey Monkey). "At the Vanderbloemen Search Group, we have helped thousands of churches find their pastor, but last weekend was the first time I saw a virtual pastoral election," said William Vanderbloemen, who oversaw the search.

I just exchanged emails to congratulate the new pastor. Philip Miller, age 38, is becoming the 17th senior pastor at Moody Church. He follows Erwin Lutzer who resigned at age 75 after a 36-year run. That will be quite a shift for the church! (The transition period was helped by Ed Stetzer, age 53, who served as interim teaching pastor.)

Certainly, succession planning does not apply only to retirement.  Many pastors will have multiple succession experiences across their working life, as will their church boards.

Sadly, however, 37% of church boards say they have had zero conversations about a pastoral succession plan across the last two years. This finding comes from a 2019 ECFA survey of pastors and church board members that drew 727 responses to that question (full report here).

What about Church Boards that DO Discuss Pastoral Succession?

Of those churches boards who do talk about succession, the table below shows some of the variations:

63% of Other Christ-Centered Nonprofits Lack a Written Succession Plan

Churches are not alone in being ill-prepared for succession. Here’s what another recent ECFA survey told us, when we polled ECFA members other than local churches. We asked: Does your board have a written succession plan in the event of the CEO's death, long-term illness, or unexpected resignation? 63% said no (2018 data, see full report here). We also asked the related questions seen in the table below:

What Tools Can Help When It’s Time to Explore Succession?

According to yet another survey, 1 in 4 (27%) of charity CEOs plan on leaving in the next three years. (2017 Boardsource survey, page 58). Some will be retirement, but others will leave “mid-career,” perhaps moving to another charity.

Whatever your situation, here are some tools that can help you prepare for succession:

1. FOR NONPROFITS: See for series #4 on succession planning.
With four short and informative videos, this toolkit highlights 11 principles that boards must address to be prepared for emergency and long-term successions. A 20-page Board Member Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide can be downloaded and photocopied for each board member and is perfect for brief board development segments at board meetings (one video per board meeting) or for your next board retreat.
2. FOR CHURCHES: The book Next: Pastoral Succession that Works, expanded and updated edition (April 2020) by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird.
Packed with new research, new interviews and highly practical solutions, this book directly addresses the questions most pastors and boards have about succession, and offers step-by-step guidance in what to do—including the advice, “start far sooner than you think you should!”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What Are the Best Books about Large Churches?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

The best way to learn about large or growing churches is to visit one, participating in a worship service either in person or via the internet. The larger the church, the more likely it is to host an online campus with opportunities for online participants to interact rather than merely view it.

The second-best approach is to read about them. To me the most inspiring, practical, and engaging books are those about specific churches. My bookshelf is full of these profiles. Perhaps the best-known is Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church, which tells the story of Saddleback Church, but lots of other large-church pastors have written books that include the story of the church they serve.

My latest co-authored book is one of those profiles, titled Liquid Church: Six Powerful Currents to Saturate Your City for Christ. The lead author is Pastor Tim Lucas, who planted a church that grew in 12 years to 5,000 people, had 2,400 baptisms, and has had amazing community impact. (And yes, Liquid Church is an ECFA-accredited member, as are about half of America’s 100-largest churches.)

I’ve learned much from reading various “how God built this” stories, including historic ones. On my nightstand, for example, is the autobiography of America’s best-known pastor of the late 1800s, T. De Witt Talmage, pastor of the world’s biggest Protestant church—in 1892. Fascinating. Another book I co-authored profiled the first American megachurch to grow largely by small groups: On-Purpose Leadership: Multiplying Your Ministry by Becoming a Leader of Leaders by Dale Galloway with Warren Bird. (Megachurches are congregations with weekly worship attendance of 2,000 and more including children.)

If you wanted a baker’s dozen of other books profiling U.S. megachurches, here’s a list in no particular order:

Deep and Wide, by Andy Stanley

The Journey of T.D. Jakes, by Richard Young

The Rise of Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church, by Richard Young

The Blessed Life, by Robert Morris

When God Builds a Church, by Bob Russell

The Church that Never Sleeps, by Matthew Barnett

The Old Church Downtown: An Incomplete History of The First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, by Jack Hyles

Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy, by Macel Falwell

Goliath: The Life of Robert Schuller, by James Penner

Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement, by Dave and Jon Ferguson (Community Christian Church)

Harvest: The Amazing Story of Calvary Chapel, by Chuck Smith and Tal Brooke (Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa)

Vision Lost and Found: Story of a Church that Got Stuck but Didn’t Stay There, by Tim Stevens (Granger Community Church)

Go BIG: Lead Your Church to Explosive Growth, by Bill Easum and Bil Cornelius

In addition, there are many books about how a church grows from smaller to larger, such as How to Break Growth Barriers by Carl George and Warren Bird. See also Tony Morgan's Unstuck Church, Mac Lake's Multiplication Effect, Gary McIntosh's One Size Doesn't Fit All, and Dave Ferguson's Hero Maker.

Bigger Story Is Overseas

The world’s largest-attendance churches, by far, are overseas, as a “Global Megachurch” list that I managed for years at Leadership Network demonstrates (see As with U.S. churches, there are many English-language books about individual churches, such as More than Numbers by Paul Yonggi Cho and Growing the World’s Largest Church by Karen Hurston.

One of the more recent ones is an overview titled Ten of the Largest Church Ministries Aggressively Touching the World, by Elmer Towns. Dr. Towns co-founded Jerry Falwell’s megachurch, Thomas Road Baptist Church, and also Liberty University. He is one of our nation’s earliest and most prolific writers about large, growing churches and Sunday schools (in most churches the Sunday school had a larger attendance than the worship service until the 1960s).   

An ECFA Contribution: Better Church Boards

I sense a growing interest among larger churches in how to better utilize their main church board. On the negative side, nearly every headline-making problem in a large church circles back, at some point, to the question, “Why didn’t the board help prevent this disaster?” On the positive side, I haven’t yet found a thriving larger church where the board wasn’t healthy and meaningfully supporting the pastoral staff.

One of ECFA’s specialties is governance, stemming from our commitment to excellence, integrity and appropriate transparency in leadership. In recent months we’ve released new tools for governance, applicable to any size of church, but especially needed in larger churches.

While our website provides many governance resources, let me mention two books and a board-assessment diagnostic:

1.     Lessons from the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance. Imagine saying to a board member, “Pick one of the short lessons in this book on how we can become a better board, and at our next board meeting take 5 minutes to teach it, and then we’ll discuss it.” If you do that meeting after meeting, your board will increasingly improve! Of course, you can also give a copy to each board member to read on their own.

2.     ECFA Tools and Templates for Effective Board Governance contains 22 time-saving, tested, and well-developed resources. Do you have an orientation process for new board members? An assessment for the senior pastor or for the board? A board policies manual? Annual affirmation statements for board members? They’re all here, and more.

3.     ECFA ChurchBoardScoreTM is easy to use, unique and insightful, and it offers immediate feedback. It’s designed to help your board evaluate its performance, and then show how to improve in areas where you’re weak or uncertain.

It’s a quick process: you sign in, and then fill out about six questions in six sections—around 36 questions total. You immediately see your score on each of the six elements, and you can save the findings onto your computer, or print them out for group discussion in your boardroom.

Then the best part of the scoring is the wealth of very specific suggestions about how to improve. Each topic has a “why this matters” section with a short teaching from Dan Busby, and then you’re also pointed to specific ECFA resources, mostly ECFA books or free downloads, that enable you to learn and grow.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

What Do We Know about Mid-Size Churches?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

Much has been written about megachurches—those that consistently draw 2,000 or more adults and children each week. In fact, my last blog in this series (see here) highlighted some of the “health” trends among the country’s roughly 1,750 megachurches. They represent roughly 5 million people each week.

But another group of churches draws an even more sizable crowd. Some 15-20 million people attend churches in the 500-1,999 range—the mid-size churches. If we profiled them, what would we learn?

Good news: I helped create a profile in 2015 (see the full report here), and ECFA has joined an effort to create an updated profile for 2020.

The back story to this research is how the largest-scale national study of U.S. churches occurs every 5 years (2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and now 2020). It covers churches from 5 people to over 50,000 in weekly worship. It was my privilege in 2010 and 2015 to be involved with the large church (500-1999) and megachurch (2000-up) portions of the research – and for the 2020 version, ECFA will be joining as a research partner.

Here are highlights from our earlier study of the growth, vitality and leadership of churches in the 500-1,999 attendance range:

• Just over two thirds of the weekly attenders are under age 50.
• Over a third of the congregations are multiracial.
• At least three-quarters report the use of small groups as central to their spiritual formation strategy.
• Nearly 7 out of 10 churches are currently led by the senior pastor under whose tenure the most dramatic growth occurred.
• Nearly 7 out of 10 offer a formal internship program.
• Half of these churches were founded since 1964.
• Far more (67%) are growing than declining.
• Multisite churches are growing at a far faster rate than single-site churches.
• Largest worship seating capacity for churches in this size range is 750 (median).
• Nearly every church (99%) had multiple weekend worship services with roughly half (49%) saying these services varied by style or type.

Want More On Church Boards?

ECFA conducted a national study of church boards and released the findings in an illustrated free download titled Unleashing Your Church Board’s Potential: Comprehensive Report from ECFA’s National Survey of Church Boards, by Warren Bird, 46 pages. Please take a look, learn from it, discuss it, and let us know your thoughts about it. For additional materials on church boards, see the bottom half of my blog titled “What Are the Best Resources for Large Churches?” Finally, please do subscribe to this blog so that we can keep you current on future research findings.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

What Are the Biggest “Health” Trends in Large Churches?

By Warren Bird, Ph.D.

The largest-scale national study of U.S. churches occurs every 5 years (2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and now 2020). It covers churches from 5 people to over 50,000 in weekly worship. It was my privilege in 2010 and 2015 to be involved with the large church (500-1999) and megachurch (2000-up) portions of the research – and now for the 2020 version, ECFA will be joining as a research partner.

Curious about what we learned? For 2015, here were some of the biggest findings for megachurches:

The more intentional a church is about small groups, the greater the spiritual vitality. In one part of the survey we asked churches how intentional the church was in engaging people in small groups. An amazing 79% said it’s “central” to their discipleship strategy. A median of 40% of adults in megachurches are involved in a small group. In another question we asked the extent to which they agree/disagree that their church is “spiritually vital and alive.” Then we compared the two response groups.

The more the global mission emphasis, the higher the per-capita giving. We asked churches which of three categories would best describe their global mission emphasis. Is there “some” emphasis? Is there “a lot” of emphasis? Or is global mission “our church’s specialty”? Then we calculated per-capita giving (total giving to all funds divided by worship attendance). The clear and unmistakable trend was that churches with greater emphasis on missions see higher financial giving.

The greater the emphasis on personal accountability, the greater the participation. We learned this by asking churches for their “approach to how members hold each other accountable for active participation and living out one’s faith in daily life.” Options ranged from “no emphasis” to “important and regular practice.” Other questions asked about levels of participation. Bottom line: churches that implement intentional systems of member accountability show significantly higher levels of participation.

The more intentionality about engaging young adults, the greater percentage of them in the congregation. In the typical megachurch, 1 in 5 people (20%) are ages 18-34, and 1 in 4 (28%) are ages 35-49. Contrary to stereotypes, large churches are successfully attracting young adults—both Millennials and GenX. Stated in research terms, the more intentional a church is about reaching young adults, the bigger the percentage of the attenders that they represent.

Members are coming less frequently. As with all church sizes, regular participants are attending worship services less frequently. This is a question tracked in the 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015 survey—and will be in the 2020 version. When we asked a church its weekly worship attendance and then compared that number to its total number of participants, the percentage keeps inching down. For 2015, it was 82%.

Want More On Church Boards?

ECFA conducted a national study of church boards and released the findings in an illustrated free download titled Unleashing Your Church Board’s Potential: Comprehensive Report from ECFA’s National Survey of Church Boards, by Warren Bird, 46 pages. Please take a look, learn from it, discuss it, and let us know your thoughts about it. For additional materials on church boards, see the bottom half of my blog titled “What Are the Best Resources for Large Churches?” Finally, please do subscribe to this blog so that we can keep you current on future research findings.