NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Southeast led the way, but churches from coast to coast are on the 2010 list of America’s largest and fastest-growing churches, according to Outreach Magazine based on research from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
LifeWay Research solicited information regarding average weekend attendance, not membership, in March and February 2010, and 8,000 churches from across the nation responded. LifeWay Research then generated the Largest and Fastest-Growing lists for Outreach Magazine’s “100 Largest and Fastest-Growing Churches in America” annual report.
This is the third year LifeWay Research has worked with Outreach to gather and publish the data.
This year’s Largest list features churches from 31 states across the nation. The highest concentration of Largest churches is in the Southeast, with 33 of the top 100 spots. Rounding out the regional representation: Churches in the West captured 22 of the top spots; churches in the Midwest and Southwest each earned 21 spots; and churches in the Northeast garnered three placements.
Lakewood Church in Houston tops the Largest list with an average attendance of 43,500.
The data demonstrates that “the Bible Belt hasn’t cornered the market on attracting attendees,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president for research and ministry development at LifeWay. “In reality, churches in all regions of the country are reaching people. The fact that two churches in the Northeast placed in the top 50 on the Largest churches list is evidence of that.”
Churches in the Northeast also earned representation on the Fastest-Growing list, with four placing in the top 100. Inclusion on the Fastest-Growing list requires churches to have an attendance greater than 1,000 and report a numerical gain of 250 or more, and a percentage gain of at least 3 percent since last year.
Again, churches in the Southeast earned the most representation with 33 on the Fastest-Growing list. Churches in the Midwest garnered 25 spots; in the Southwest, 20; and in the West, 18.
Topping the Fastest-Growing list is 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., which grew by 2,226 weekly attendees, representing a 30 percent increase over the previous year.
Forty-five churches, including ones in Nevada, Illinois and Georgia, among other states, made both lists, with North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., coming in as the largest dual-list member (No. 2 on the Largest and No. 68 on the Fastest-Growing).
North Point, like several of the churches on the lists, has multiple worship sites. For this research, a multi-site church included those with multiple “physical sites and venues in the U.S.” In all, there are 384 sites represented by the 100 churches on the Largest list and 373 sites represented on the Fastest-Growing list.
Stetzer pointed out that nearly all of the churches on the Largest list and more than half on the Fastest-Growing list operate more than one site. “While the multi-site model may not be the best strategy for every church,” he noted, “these lists suggest that communities respond with attendance when churches come to them via multiple campuses rather than staying in one location.”
Additionally, the churches included on the lists report a wide array of denominational affiliations as well as many that identify themselves as nondenominational. In fact, self-identified nondenominational churches earned the most spots on both lists, 49 on the Largest and 58 on the Fastest-Growing.
“Churches in America face huge challenges — I don’t want to underemphasize this — but churches on these lists give us examples of churches that are reaching their communities,” Stetzer said. “That can be an encouragement to all different kinds of churches.”
The lists “are about more than simply seeking out mega-churches and patting them on the back for their popular appeal,” Stetzer said. “The report is intended to encourage church leaders and members with the news that churches all over this country are making an impact in their communities for God’s Kingdom. They are a snapshot of what God is doing through churches.”
Brooklyn Lowery is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. To view the Outreach Magazine/LifeWay Research report on the largest and fastest-growing churches in America, go to http://www.lifeway.com/fileclick/?id=9326.