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Home > 2001 > February Online Only > Three Church Growth Myths

Do you need alarming statistics to motivate your church into being more evangelistic? I hope not. There's already plenty of evidence to indicate that many people still need to be evangelized without exaggerating. That's why I'd like to dispel a number of myths currently being circulated.

Myth #1: The percentage of adults in the United States who attend church is decreasing. (See statistics below.)

The fact is churchgoing in America has been very stable for 60 years. True, according to the Gallup Poll, church attendance surged in the 1950s and trailed off in the 1960s to an average of between 40 to 43 percent. And it's true that in 1996 only 37 percent of those surveyed by Gallup said they attend church weekly — the lowest percentage ever recorded. But in 1999 — the last year for which statistics are available — 43 percent of Americans said they had attended church in the past week. So church attendance actually increased by 16 percent in just 3 years.

Myth #2: More churches are closing than opening every year.

Actually, there are more churches in the United States now than there were 20 or even 100 years ago. According to yellow pages statistics there are currently more than 350,000 listings for churches in this country compared to about 300,000 twenty years ago. This growth in the number of churches reflects the growth in the U.S. population during the twentieth century.

Perhaps this misperception arose because there has been a dramatic decline in the church-to-population ratio in the past century. According to the "1993-1994 Almanac of the Christian World" there were 27 churches per 10,000 people in 1900 compared to just 12 churches per 10,000 people in 1990. However, churches are getting larger. Church growth expert Lyle Schaller reports that various denominational records indicate the average church size has tripled in the past century. So even though there aren't as many churches per capita, many people are attending larger, mega-churches.

Myth #3: Conversions to other religions and dropouts from Christianity are escalating. (See statistics below.)

The truth is, according to Gallup research, the number of Americans who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians has grown dramatically in the past quarter century — especially in the 1990s. In 1976, 34 percent of Americans were classified as evangelicals. Twenty-five years later, in 1999, this number was up 12 percentage points to 46 percent.

In conclusion, be cautious with reports that cast church growth statistics negatively. Try to step back and get the whole picture before using statistics to prod congregants into action. After all, we already have adequate motivation — a biblical mandate to go into all the world with the gospel until Christ returns. And the fact is regardless of upward or downward trends there are plenty of people left that need the good news.

About the Research

Gallup statistics in this report come from Emerging Trends, a monthly publication ...

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Posted: February 21, 2001

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