Total U.S. Churches No Longer In Decline?

According to Stetzer & Bird, they’re not, and that’s great news! Stetzer & Bird report about 4,000 new churches are being planted in the U.S. each year while 3,500 are closing their doors.

From The Christian Post:

We often hear about churches closing their doors in the U.S. But some may be surprised to hear that the total number of churches is not in decline anymore.

An important shift happened in recent years, according to researchers Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird. After decades of net decline, more U.S. churches are being started each year than are being closed.

The credit largely goes to the recent increase in enthusiasm for church planting. Stetzer, who leads LifeWay Research, says church planting has become the “it” thing right now and the new evangelism … “[C]hurch planting is on the mind of North American Christians at unprecedented levels,” they write.

Despite the aggressive increase in church launches, a massive church planting phenomenon hasn’t happened yet and the co-authors are hoping to help Christians move past certain obstacles in order to orchestrate a viral movement.

That means, church planting must move from being a fad or “the next big thing” to a “passionate pursuit of the lost.”

Stetzer & Bird go on to address the hesitancy some have toward church planting:

There may be a hesitancy to having a church planting emphasis because “the thinking seems to be [that] there’s a church on every corner and most of them are empty,” state the authors, who have led and studied church plants.

But research shows that new churches fare better when it comes to drawing new people and they have a higher ratio of conversions and baptisms compared to more established churches, according to Viral Churches.

“The only way to increase the number of Christians in a city is to plant thousands of new churches,” said Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, according to Viral Churches.

Growing churches make up only about 20 percent of all U.S. churches today. The rest have reached a plateau or are declining.

“Studies have shown that, in general, churches typically plateau in attendance by their fifteenth year, and by about thirty-five years they begin having trouble replacing the members they lose,” the book states. “[A]mong evangelical churches, those under three years old will win ten people to Christ per year for every hundred members. Those three to fifteen years old will win five people per year for every hundred members. After age fifteen the number drops to three per year.”

Read the full story here.

I’m all for church planting and am thrilled about the successes, but is it really our only – as in, singular – hope?

Does a church’s “age” really determine whether or not the people making it up can tell others about Jesus?

I’m more inclined to believe whether a church is reaching people or not has more to do with leadership than age. Perhaps church plants are generally led better than older churches? Perhaps they have a vision coupled with the passion to achieve it and that’s often missing from older churches?

Could it be that the results of this study tell us every bit as much about the benefits of solid leadership as they do the benefits of church planting? Possibly so …

Anyway, I’m glad to hear this – the news is good. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Total U.S. Churches No Longer In Decline?

  1. K. Rex Butts says:

    Ten years ago, back in the year 2000 when the infatuation with megachurches was still without question, Eddie Gibbs (a professor at Fuller Seminary) wrote a book titled “Church Next: Quantum Changes in How We Do Ministry.” In that book he said made the almost passing comment that for all the accolades we could throw at the megachurch movement, that movement had yet to reverse the trend of secularization in America. I believe his point is still valid. While there is some reason to be encouraged when hearing that finally the number of churches being planted outnumbers the churches shutting down, we must not allow the positive numbers to lull us into a false sense of security from a Christian mission viewpoint in regards to America. Though the Apostle Paul seem thoroughly appreciative for the growing number of Gentile Christians and churches being established, his goal was to present the Gentiles as “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Rom 15.16, TNIV). Until there is reasonable evidence that churches in American (established and newly planted) are producing lives that are being tranformed from the values and behaviors of this world into the gospel values and behaviors, we must proceed with a sense of concern for what is becoming of Christianity in America.

    For what it is worth, that is my opinion.

    Grace and peace,


  2. WesWoodell says:

    Good points Rex – thanks for the comment.

    Sounds like an interesting book.

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