Are US churches following European churches in their dwindling attendance?

(Photo: LifeWay Research)

For long, the North American Christian landscape has looked askance at plunging church attendance in secular Western Europe, but a new survey seems to indicate that the United States could be heading the same way and churches would like to counter this trend.

A new study from Exponential by LifeWay Research found that 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

Lifeway says the research gives a clear picture of the state of Protestant churches in America today.

Most have fewer than 100 people attending services each Sunday, at 57 percent of the churches, including 21 percent who average fewer than 50.

Around one in 10 churches, or 11 percent, average 250 or more for their worship services.

The study was conducted to help churches better understand growth in the pews, the Christian Post reported.


It showed that most Protestant churches are not doing well attracting new Christian converts, reporting an average of less than one each month.

"The primary purpose of this study was to obtain a set of objective measures on churches' reproduction and multiplication behaviors today as well as to understand their core context of growth," said Todd Wilson, chief executive officer of Exponential, in a LifeWay research post.

"By combining these measures, we can help churches think about multiplication."

"Growth is not absent from American churches but rapid growth through conversions is uncommon," Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in the release.

About 8 percent of the 1,000 Protestant pastors polled in the study had no new converts in the last 12 months.

And 28 percent of Protestant pastors say their church has seen worship service attendance shrink by 6 percent or more compared to three years ago.

Another 33 percent say their church has remained within 5 percent, while 39 percent say their congregation has grown by at least 6 percent since the first quarter of 2016.

More than half of 18- to 44-year old pastors (55 percent) say their church is growing, while 33 percent of pastors 45 and older say the same.

Evangelical churches are more likely to be growing (42 percent) than their mainline counterparts (34 percent).

Less than a quarter (23 percent) of churches with an average worship attendance of fewer than 50 say they are growing, while most churches with 250 or more in attendance (59 percent) are growing.

Among denominations, Holiness (56 percent) and Baptist (45 percent) pastors are more likely to say their churches are growing than Methodists (33 percent) and Lutherans (25 percent).

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% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed /- 3.2%. This information from the statistical nerds assures us the study is very accurate," commented The Aquila Report.

The Aquila Report noted some of the findings:

"Seventy of churches are subtracting/declining or plateauing. Only 30 percent are adding/growing. This data is largely consistent with other research we have done. The period covered is three years.

"There are relatively few reproducing churches. The research categorized only 7 percent of the churches as reproducing.

"The numbers of churches considered multiplying 0 percent in the sample, indicating a negligible number in the total U. S. church population."

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