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Baptist churchesí size, growth rank among top in U.S.comment (0)

October 8, 2009

About one-fourth of the largest and one-third of the fastest-growing churches in America are Baptist, including one Alabama Baptist church, according to an annual listing compiled by LifeWay Research for Outreach Magazine. 

Church on the Eastern Shore, Fairhope, ranked No. 72 on the list of fastest-growing churches, with a growth of 29 percent, or 346 members. Mark Price is senior pastor of the Baldwin Baptist Association church founded in 2003.

Nearly half of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing churches are nondenominational. With attendance averaging 43,500, the largest congregation, Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, has nearly twice as many members as the next-largest, LifeChurch.tv in Edmond, Okla., attended by 26,776.

“There is little question that more of the larger and fastest-growing churches are nondenominational,” said LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer, who compiled the lists.

“And, in many of the cases, even those that were denominational, they often did not say so in their name.”

Stetzer’s group is part of LifeWay Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) publishing arm.

 Forty-six of the nation’s largest churches (which the study defined as having more than 5,600 members) and 47 of the fastest-growing (1,000-plus-member congregations posting an annual numerical gain of 300 or more, and a percentage increase of at least 5 percent) are nondenominational.

“It is tough to know why,” Stetzer said. “We just know that it is happening.”

Twenty-four of the largest churches, meanwhile, are Baptist, with 17 of those 24 being Southern Baptist. By comparison, three Presbyterian, one United Methodist and one Evangelical Lutheran crack the list of the 100 largest churches. Even a growing denomination like the Assemblies of God claims only five of the largest churches.

The largest Baptist congregation, Second Baptist Church, Houston, ranks No. 5 overall. Led by former SBC President Ed Young, the church reported an average weekly attendance of 22,723.

Second Baptist comes in just behind North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.

Though nondenominational, North Point was started by former Southern Baptist minister Andy Stanley in 1995 and is now America’s fourth-largest church with attendance of 23,377.

Thirty-one of the fastest-growing churches are Baptist. Out of those, 21 are Southern Baptist.

The fastest-growing Baptist church is Elevation Church, Charlotte, N.C., reporting a growth rate of 44 percent.

Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif., is one of six churches showing up as both one of the largest (No. 6) and fastest-growing (No. 23) churches. The congregation is affiliated with the SBC. Stetzer said the high profile of Southern Baptists on both the largest and fastest-growing lists doesn’t change his earlier observations that the SBC, as a whole, is starting to decline.

LifeWay Research projected recently unless the aging and predominantly white denomination reverses a 50-year trend of declining evangelism, its membership will decline by nearly half — from 16.2 million to 8.7 million — by 2050.

“There are a good number of SBC megachurches on the list, but their growth does not offset the membership decline of the denomination as a whole,” Stetzer explained.

“There are growing SBC churches in every size — small, medium and large. However, the net membership has dropped for two years in a row.”

That would apply even to some of the churches on the largest-churches list. For instance, Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., was ranked the 80th-largest church, with attendance averaging 6,567.

But eight years ago the church, under previous pastor Adrian Rogers, consistently averaged more than 7,500. On Sept. 13, the congregation, now led by Steve Gaines, introduced a new contemporary worship service aimed at turning around the decline. 

To prepare the report, the magazine invited participation from more than 8,000 churches. The listings are based on February and March weekend attendance averages, excluding Easter.

While not a comprehensive and exhaustive list, the magazine said it went to great lengths to confirm data self-reported by pastors, staff or church officers. (ABP)


Largest churches in America

Top 10 churches named:

  1. Lakewood Church, Houston
  2. LifeChurch.tv, Edmond, Okla.
  3. Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill.
  4. North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Ga.
  5. Second Baptist Church, Houston*
  6. Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif.*
  7. Fellowship Church, Grapevine, Texas*
  8. Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Ky.
  9. Woodlands Church, The Woodlands, Texas*
10. Calvary Chapel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Other Southern Baptist churches mentioned:
13. Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas
14. Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va.
29. Lake Pointe Church, Rockwall, Texas
44. NewSpring Church, Anderson, S.C.
53. Flamingo Road Church, Cooper City, Fla.
76. First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.
80. Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn.
82. Pinelake Church, Brandon, Miss.
83. Voices of Faith Ministries, Stone Mountain, Ga.
87. Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, Tenn.
96. The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas
97. Bay Area Fellowship, Corpus Christi, Texas
99. Shadow Mountain Community Church, El Cajon, Calif.

Fastest-growing churches in America

Top 10 churches named:
  1. New Life Church, Conway, Ark.
  2. Calvary Temple Worship Center, Modesto, Calif.
  3. Cornerstone Church of San Diego, National City, Calif.
  4. Elevation Church, Charlotte, N.C.*
  5. Faith Church of St. Louis, Fenton, Mo.
  6. Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, Tenn.*
  7. 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, Ga.
  8. Experience Life, Lubbock, Texas
  9. North Point Church, Springfield, Mo.
10. Kingdom in the Valley Christian Church, Litchfield Park, Ariz.

Other Southern Baptist churches mentioned:
16. NewSpring Church, Anderson, S.C.
18. The Church at Rock Creek, Little Rock, Ark.
23. Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif.
32. Christ Fellowship, Miami
37. Bethlehem Church, Gastonia, N.C.
42. New Vision Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
43. The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas
50. First Baptist Church, West Palm Beach, Fla.
56. Rock Bridge Community Church, Dalton, Ga.
59. LifePoint Church, Smyrna, Tenn.
61. Flamingo Road Church, Cooper City, Fla.
70. Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, Tenn.
72. Church on the Eastern Shore, Fairhope, Ala.
77. Bay Area Fellowship, Corpus Christi, Texas
78. Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas
84. Pinelake Church, Brandon, Miss.
87. First Baptist Church Concord, Knoxville, Tenn.
92. Biltmore Baptist Church, Arden, N.C.
93. Woodlands Church, The Woodlands, Texas

(*) indicates Top 10 listing is a Southern Baptist congregation
Source: “Outreach 100: Largest and Fastest Growing Churches in America”

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