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Fast Facts: Church Growth

Fast Facts: Church Growth

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How Long Does New Last?

How Long Does New Last?

When our children were small, we used a hide-a-bed couch we’d received from my wife’s grandmother when we first got married. When we picked up a garage-sale love seat for the den, it became “the new couch.” Even when we replaced the hide-a-bed several years later, the “new couch” in the den kept its name until we replaced it 20 years later.

In the Church of the Nazarene, as in many Protestant groups, new churches tend to grow faster than more established congregations. But how long does that newness effect last?

I currently attend Kansas City First Church which has already celebrated its hundredth birthday. Kansas City Summit View, the church I recently pastored, was begun in the 1950s. It is obviously much newer than First Church. Another church, CrossPoint Community, was begun near my neighborhood in 1999. Many of us still consider it to be a new church on the Kansas City district. The Ridge Community was begun in 2013. How new does a church have to be to expect better-than-average growth?

Our goal is to make Christ-like disciples. How long do new churches outpace the denomination in membership growth, worship growth, or new Nazarenes?

25 Years of Growth Comparisons

Research Services has checked the average growth of churches by their age for the past 25 years. That is, for each of the past 25 years, how well did churches grow their first year? Their second? And so on until their 25th year. How do those growth figures compare to denominational growth each of those years?

25 Year Global Average of New Church Effectiveness

For the past quarter-century, new churches of the Nazarene outpaced denominational worship growth for the first four years and outpaced membership growth for five. They produced more new Nazarenes than older churches for the first two years of their existence.

When considering how many Nazarene members it takes to win one more, new churches do better than average for each of their first 9 years. When compared to the number of worshipers, new churches do better for thirteen years.

10 Years of Growth Comparisons

But a lot can happen to any trend over 25 years, so Research Services ran the same comparisons for just the past decade. The trends have indeed changed.

10-Year Global Average of New Church Effectiveness

Above-average membership growth continues for five years, but all other growth comparisons taper off much sooner than when previous years are included. What factor would explain this dramatic shift?

During the past decade, a major shift has occurred in where new Churches of the Nazarene are started. More than half of new Churches of the Nazarene each year have been on just four fields: West Africa, East Africa, India, and South Asia. The strategies and receptivity of these fields have affected the reported growth of new churches across the denomination.

10-Year Average of New Church Effectiveness on Rapid Growth Fields

Running the same analysis for the churches on these four fields shows a startling difference in how long the “new” effect lasts.

Essentially, most of the new churches on these fields have above-average growth for just the first year or two. Reports from these fields indicate that many of these churches are house churches. In these world areas, this has been a very effective means of incorporating new believers into the Kingdom. But growth within a house church model is rapidly limited by size of worship space.

These groups continue to win people to the Lord and to the Church of the Nazarene, but they cannot handle the net growth of other church models. In order to continue to reach people, additional churches must be begun rapidly. This has been the practice in these four fields for the past 10 years.

10-Year Average of New Church Effectiveness Outside Rapid Growth Fields

New Churches of the Nazarene in other areas of the world have actually increased their above-average growth years in the past decade. Now, membership growth exceeds the denominational average for the first 10 years. The numbers of new Nazarenes per member and per worshiper are now above average for the first 12 and 15 years, respectively.

10 Year USA/Canada Average of New Church Effectiveness

Within the USA/Canada Region, new churches tend to produce above-average results even longer. Worship growth outpaces the regional average for five years. Average membership growth exceeds the regional average for 10 years. The average number of new Nazarenes per church is above the regional average for each of the first seventeen reporting years. The ratio of new Nazarenes per member and per worshiper tends to be higher every year for their first quarter century.

The emphasis on new churches must not overshadow the importance of existing congregations. Globally, above-average worship growth does not continue more than five years, even in the USA/Canada Region. Two-thirds of new Nazarenes each year come from churches that are at least six years old.

Per capita giving in USA/Canada new churches is high in the first few years, then drops off as more new Nazarenes need to be discipled in stewardship principles. Older congregations have spent years discipling their members and attenders. Not only is per capita giving usually higher in older congregations, but missions support is greater as well, both per member and as a percentage of church income.

So, how long does new last?

For house churches, the greatest growth is achieved within the first two years. For other churches, the greatest worship growth occurs in the first four years. Membership growth lasts longer, perhaps indicating that it takes several years to incorporate new believers into the fellowship. The ratio of new Nazarenes per church is above average for three years globally, though it continues for several additional years in the U.S. and Canada. New Nazarenes per worshiper and per member tend to be higher well into the second decade of a church’s life.

To effectively reach more people through new churches, the house church model requires starting new congregations at least every other year. Starting a church with a larger capacity should be done every four to five years to effectively reach more people through the Church of the Nazarene.

Dale Jones is director of Research Services for the Church of the Nazarene.

More from Dale Jones: “How can a 10-year chart reflect 25 years of growth?” I asked myself that question when I came back to the chart after a few days. For those who enjoy technical details, here is the answer: We analyzed the reports for churches of different ages for each of the past 10 years. Some churches reached 25 years of age during the past 10 years. For each chart, growth for churches of each age was averaged in order to create comparisons.