Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fun With Numbers

Yesterday I was tooling around the ‘Net, and stumbled across a website for the Harvard Institute for Religion Research. They have a list of the top 1300 churches by average Sunday attendance (located here). Being the Excel geek that I am, I looked at the list and immediately thought “spreadsheet”. Once in spreadsheet format I had a lot of fun with it, pathetic life that I lead :) Here are some of my findings.

First, the top ten:

1 Lakewood Church Joel Osteen Houston TX 30000
2 Saddleback Valley Community Church Rick Warren Lake Forest CA 22000
3 Willow Creek Community Church Bill Hybels South Barrington IL 20000
4 Fellowship Church Ed Young Grapevine TX 19500
5 Southeast Christian Church Robert Russell Louisville KY 18757
6 The Potter's House T.D. Jakes Dallas TX 18500
7 Calvary Chapel Robert Coy Ft. Lauderdale FL 18000
8 New Birth Missionary Baptist Eddie Long Lithonia GA 18000
9 Crenshaw Christian Center Fred Price Los Angeles CA 17000
10 Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa Chuck Smith, Sr Santa Ana CA 16500

No surprise here that at least seven of the top ten have a strong media presence. Joel Osteen has a bestseller on the charts and his church just bought the former home of the Houston Rockets to serve as their church building. (I don’t think the Houston Rockets ever had 30,000 people attend a game even when they won the NBA Championship.) If you haven’t heard of Rick Warren and The Purpose Driven… fad then I think you’re dead. It’s everywhere. Purpose Driven Life. 40 Days of Purpose. Purpose Driven diapers. You can’t miss it. Willow Creek Community Church topped this list a few years ago, before John Osteen died and Joel Osteen mania took over. I don’t think they are as influential as they once were, the coming generation having relegated them to the “been there done that” pile, but they still drive the seeker-sensitive train and draw the numbers. T.D. Jakes, Eddie Long and Fred Price are the only African-Americans in the top ten. They are respected not only in the church but in the African-American community as well, for their efforts to improve the lives of countless thousands. Chuck Smith might be the oldest pastor in the top ten, having founded Calvary Chapel in the 60’s.

Most of these churches, if they don’t have radio or television on their agenda, have a good grasp on the influence of the Internet. Of the top 50, only three don’t have websites; in the top 100, five; of the top 200 churches, 18 don’t have websites. The number increases as the attendance figures go down. 11 of the bottom 50, 20 of the bottom 100, and 45 of the bottom 200 don’t have a presence on the Web. Is there a connection? Of course there is. Advertisers spend millions of dollars a year to place brand names before the public. Why do you think so much attention is given to Super Bowl commercials? Because the Super Bowl is the most widely seen program of the year, $2 million spent on 30 seconds of time can pay huge dividends if the commercial is memorable. In the same way, a good website, a television and/or radio program and a presence in the surrounding community can put butts in the seats.

At this point I realize that I am turning the focus of church growth on the marketing. “Jesus said ‘Upon this rock I will build my church’”, someone will tell me. “Jesus builds the church, and he doesn’t rely on marketing or surveys to do it. There is too much emphasis on numbers.” I will agree with the latter statement to a point. If the emphasis is solely on attention-getting attendance figures instead of the people those figures represent, then we need to turn our outlook upside-down. Regarding Jesus building the church apart from advertisements and media ministries, I agree, Jesus draws people unto himself and makes them a part of His body. BUT… he works through us on the earth. We have to get to know people, love them and give them Jesus. It’s like the statement that the Holy Spirit chooses the Pope, so it doesn’t matter who the “favorites” are. Sure, the Holy Spirit drives the machinery, but if you think politics and lobbying play no part then you are fooling yourself. The Holy Spirit must have really liked Italians to have them as Popes for 400 years.

And speaking of the Catholic Church… there are no Catholic churches on the list. Is that because the Catholic Church didn’t submit attendance figures? Is that because the Catholic Church doesn’t keep attendance figures? How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll© center of a Tootsie Pop©? The world may never know.

Denominational affiliations are listed for most of the churches on the list but not all.

Foursquare Churches- 15
Assembly of God- 85 (and yes, Pastor Crow of North Ridgeville, Ohio, the Assemblies of God are definitely a denomination)
African Methodist-Episcopal- 10
Baptist- 123 (although keep in mind that some Baptist churches listed themselves as independent, and among the Baptist churches there are many flavors)
Calvary Chapel- 55 (I was very surprised by this; I didn’t realize that Calvary Chapel’s influence ran that deep)
Christian- 52 (although I hope they’re all Christian)
Non-Denominational- 287 (although this figure can be misleading; I see some churches among the 287 that are definitely part of denominations. Some of the churches that don’t have an affiliation listed are probably part of this group as well.)
Southern Baptist- 216 (the largest number of churches affiliated with one denomination in the whole list; I believe they are the largest group in the country as well)
United Methodist Church- 68 (this really surprised me; I didn’t think that many people attended mainline churches anymore)
Vineyard- 12 (I love the Vineyard, so I would have mentioned them if they only had one)

California and Texas, being the biggest states in the union, have the most churches in the list. Hawaii has five, including one with 12,000 members (I didn’t know there were 12,000 people in the whole state). My home state of Ohio has 51, including one church I’ve actually been to, Church of the Open Door right here in Elyria. I think every state is represented, although I’m not going to count them all :)

Other fun facts:

Number of pastors named George- 15
Number of pastors named Dick- 3
Number of pastors named Benny Hinn- 1
Congregations with the word “church" in their name- 965
“center”- 79
“fellowship”- 67
“family”- 24 (so if you’re single, do they just tell you to go to hell?)
“temple”- 26
“tabernacle”- 15
“Baptist”- 349
“missionary Baptist”- 18
“Abyssinian Baptist”- 1
“Christian”- 147 (as opposed to the churches on the list who are Buddhist)
“Christ”- 107 (see above)
First Baptist- 81
Second Baptist- 5
Third Baptist- 1
“victory”- 11
“defeat”- 0

As you can see, I have way too much time on my hands :) Time doesn’t permit me to go through all the possibilities and configurations that I did last night. I’ll have to pick it up again next time.


Blogger Dave Norris said...

Where does the abominable Crystal Cathedral come in?

9:54 PM  
Blogger Bobby said...

I noticed on one of the churches that the pastor they had down had been gone for a number of years. I looked at the bottom and it looks like this study was done in 2000. I would be interested to see an updated version as I'm sure there would be some interesting changes.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Sean MacNair said...

I went back to the Hartford Institute site and noticed that it did say copyright 2000 at the bottom of one of the pages, but the page with lists all the churches in the study alphabetically said "updated Feb 2006". So I tend to think that's what it is. If it had been done in 2000 I doubt that Lakewood would have been at No. 1- Joel Osteen's father was still alive and they hadn't even topped 10,000 at that point.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Bobby said...

Gotcha...makes sense. I must have just missed that. Sorry about the confusion. I guess there's just a few details they don't have. It's tough to keep up with all the changes these days!

3:09 PM  
Blogger Sean MacNair said...

I did notice, however, that they listed two churches as having pastors who have been dead for a few years. So they might need to tighten up their research skills just a tad :)

3:37 PM  

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