Can Anything be Learned from the Growth Patterns of the Largest Nazarene Churches?

The list of the Top 100 USA/Canada Churches of the Nazarene in attendance over the last 20 years reveal the ups and downs of church life. (see stats below. I apologize for the uneven rows).

Only four of 1999’s top ten churches in attendance are in the 2019 top ten (Grove City, OH, Pismo Beach CA New Life, Bethany OK First and Lima OH Community Church). Three of those in the 1999 top ten now rank 52nd, 59th and 69th respectively. In 2009, there were seven Nazarene churches that averaged over 2,000 and one over 3,000 in morning worship attendance. Today, there are no Nazarene churches averaging over 3,000 in attendance and only four average over 2,000. Of those seven churches that averaged over 2,000 in 2009, one left the denomination and only two currently average over 2,000, both of which have declined in attendance.*

In 2009, there were 18 churches of the Nazarene over 1,000. In 2009, the number had nearly doubled to 35, but in the last 10 years the number of churches over 1000 has shrunk back to 25. Of the 35 churches that were running over 1,000 in 2009, 46% (16) are no longer averaging over 1,000 in attendance. Of the 18 churches in 1999 that averaged over 1000, seven no longer do.

That’s the bad news, here is some better news: Today’s largest USA/Canada Church (Lakeland FL Highland Park) was ranked 13th 10 years ago. In 1999, this year’s 5th ranked (Crossroads Community in Goshen, IN) and 10th ranked (Crossbridge Community, Ottawa IL) churches weren’t in the top 100 and the 6th ranked church (Oro Valley, AZ) was #97. 2019’s second largest Nazarene church (Fargo ND Prairie Heights) wasn’t in existence 20 years ago. While church attendance is down across the board in all denominations, there are churches that are growing, strong and healthy.

Are there any conclusions from these numbers? Some churches grow. Some decline. Some stay about the same. You already knew that. We also know growth or decline isn’t always an indicator of health. Like you’ve heard in every District Assembly at some point, “Numbers don’t tell the whole story.” But they do tell a story. Sometimes pruning (a slight decline) is needed for health and sometimes the least healthy can draw a crowd. There are several factors in determining the decline or growth in church attendance: Cultural shifts regarding church, declining or growing communities, older members dying off, younger generation not attending with the same consistency (if at all), leadership changes, social media impact, theological diversion in a church, etc. Every church’s decline or rise is as unique as their particular situation.

The real question is: What will happen in your setting large or small? When your kids or grandkids look at your church in twenty years what will they see? Will your church still be there? We need to pray, plan, strategize, develop healthy patterns and behaviors to ensure that our churches are thriving not just surviving or treading water in the years to come. It will take a renewal of relevant evangelism and a rekindling of the Spirit. Whatever your church situation (one of growth or decline), Jesus’ words are still true: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

*In full discloser, the church I currently pastor—Flint Central—had increased in attendance from 1999 to 2009 by 740, but declined from the 2009 to 2019 by 364. Flint Central was ranked 35th in attendance in 1999, 10th in 2009 and 13th in 2019.

Top Ten Attendance Churches in 1999
Church.                                          Att.             Members
Olathe KS College
                       2394.            2,739
Grove City OH
                             2242.            1,687
Bethany OK First
                        2,139            4,190
Denver CO First
                          2,066            3,048
Salem OR First
                            1,993           2,690
Pismo Beach CA New Life.         1,686              922
Community Lighthouse, OH
Inc./Heaventrain.                       1,546.             223
Nashville TN First.                     1,484             1,867
Puyallup WA                                1,475.            1,605
Lima OH Community.                1,468.            1,018

Top Ten Attendance Churches in 2009
Church.                                          Att.               Members
Grove City.                                    3,221.          2516
Bethany First
                               2,473           4771
Olathe College 
                             2449         3230
Yuba City Hope Point.                 2,251.           913
Pismo Beach New Life.               2,150.           855
Lima OH Community                 2,107.          1420
Gold Creek Community             2,003.          1739
Salem Fields Community          1,859.           871
Pasadena First
                             1794          1761
Flint Central                                 1,778.          1297

Top Ten Attendance Churches in 2019
Church                                       Att.           Members
Lakeland FL Highland Park.                2,572.            2158
Fargo ND Prairie Heights Community       2,313.             244
Grove City OH                                       2,289.            2876
Bethany OK First                                    2,166.            3695
Crossroads Community, Goshen IN.           1,834.            2500
Oro Valley
 AZ.                                     1,611.           1052
Pismo Beach CA New Life.                            1,578.             928
Lima OH Community.                                    1,532.           1454
Medford OR New Life                                    1,516.            1483
Crossbridge Community, Ottawa IL             1,511.             950

Thanks to Nazarene Research for the statistics (Uneven columns? Ugh! I am unsure how to correct the problem. Honestly I tried)

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