Thom Rainer: Major New Research on Declining, Plateaued, and Growing Churches

I love solid research. This new release is absolutely incredible.

I am grateful to Exponential for engaging LifeWay Research to discern current levels of church health according to a number of factors. While worship attendance trends over a three-year period were a primary indicator of health in this study, the Exponential research also included conversions, income and staffing in the data.

Major New Research on Declining, Plateaued and Growing Churches

In addition to the categorization of churches as declining/subtracting (Level 1), plateauing (Level 2) and growing/adding (Level 3), the study looked at two other supplemental categories. A Level 4 (reproducing) church places a high value and priority on starting new churches. A level 5 (multiplying) church takes church planting to multiple generations of congregations.

The accuracy of this research cannot be overstated. LifeWay Research phoned 1,000 Protestant pastors. Quotas were used to maintain the correct population of each church size. Responses were weighed by region to reflect more accurately the total U.S. population. The sample provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +/- 3.2 percent. This information from the statistical nerds assures us the study is very accurate.

Here are some of the fascinating findings:

  1. 70 percent of churches are subtracting/declining or plateauing. Only 30 percent are adding/growing based on Exponential’s categorization of churches which is defined above. This data is largely consistent with other research we have done. The period covered is three years.
  2. There are relatively few reproducing churchesThe research categorized only 7 percent of the churches as reproducing (Level 4). The numbers of churches considered multiplying (Level 5: multiple generations of church plants) was 0 percent in the sample, indicating a negligible number in the total U.S. church population.

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Source: Church Leaders

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