Friday, February 17, 2006


My thanks to the Slice of Laodicea blog- one mention and I got 75 hits yesterday. I hope I gave you something to think about.

I received two comments which I want to address before I close the book on this topic. One person thought that I was being too judgmental in addressing the negative issues involved in why churches possibly stopped growing. I’m sorry that you feel that way; I don’t believe that I was judging, just throwing out possibilities as to why these churches might be losing members. Your mileage may vary.

Another person wanted to know where Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral fit in. In 1984 they were 16th on the list, with an average Sunday attendance of 5,200. It is interesting that the same attendance would have put them 154th in 2006. In 2006 they were 481st, with an average attendance of 3,000, making a loss of 2,200 people in 20 years. I firmly believe that 1987 and 1988, with the fall of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, marked the end of the old order of superstars leading the way. Schuller, Falwell, Hyles- they all lost people for various reasons. It should have marked the end of superstars altogether, but alas, it was not so. Benny Hinn Ministries is listed as a church, with an attendance of 5000. He is definitely a throwback to the old-school healing evangelists.

And then there is Joel Osteen. I think I mentioned before that Lakewood Church made the list in 1984, coming in at number 10 with an attendance of 6,600. John Osteen died in 2001 and Joel took over, changed the focus of the preaching, and the place exploded. They now stand at an average attendance of 30,000.

The number of people attending these megachurches has skyrocketed as a whole. In 1984, if you were to total the attendance of the top 99 churches (remember the typo, one church had been mentioned twice), it would have come to 389,994. Total the attendance of the top 99 churches in 2006 and you come out to 1,041,186, just shy of three times as many people. The #99 church in 1984 was Willamette Christian Center in Eugene, OR, with an attendance of 2,000. The same attendance would have put them at 956 on the 2006 list. Between 1984 and 2006 they were one of the churches that gained in attendance, by 500 people. Their 2,500 put them at #761 in 2006.

Are that many more people attending church? The only way to know for sure would be to factor in the attendance from every church in the country for both 1984 and 2006, and although the figures for that are surely available somewhere, I’m moving on to other topics :) Just a cursory glance at the respective top 100s would show you that there are a wider variety of churches in our time as opposed to twenty years ago. African-American churches (The Potter’s House, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Church of the Harvest), “Word of Faith” churches (World Changers Ministries, Word of Faith International Christian Center, the aforementioned Benny Hinn Ministries), churches oriented to the young (Mars Hill Bible Church, North Point Community Church)- there are brand new spices in the church stew. The times and styles have changed. The reasons for all of this are as varied as the churches on the list. For the good? For the bad? Ask God- he knows, I don't :)


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