July 10, 2020

Reviewing “What is an Average Size Church?”

churchrowChaplain Mike’s post on small churches reminded me of one of the first posts I had made on Internet Monk in July of 2009. As many of our current readers may not have seen it, I thought it would be worthwhile to post again. Based on the last two surveys that were done, the numbers likely have not changed much since this post was originally published.

You may have heard people say that the “average” sized church in the U.S. or Canada is about 75 people. You also may have heard someone say that the “average” sized church in North America is about 185 people. Who is right? It all depends how you define “average”.

Statisticians use three terms when describing populations. “Mean”, “Median”, and a third term that won’t really enter our discussion today called “Mode”.

I have borrowed, and expanded upon, an analogy from the The National Congregations Study that was released last month, to help us understand the differences in these terms and why they are important to our understanding of churches in North America. What you will read here is U.S. data, but the numbers are very similar for the Canadian situation as well.

Imagine you are looking down a very, very long street, and all the churches of U.S. are lined up along the left side of the street from smallest to largest. In behind each church are all their Sunday morning attenders.

If you counted the grand total of everyone standing behind each church and then divided this number by the total number of churches that you see on this very long street, you would come up with a “mean” or “average” size of 184. “Mean” is usually what we mean of when we think of “average”. But this number of 184 is a very misleading number.

Lets say you start walking down the street, passing the churches with 5 people on a Sunday morning, 10 people, 15 people, 20 people. You continue walking until you have passed half of all the churches in America. Half of the churches in the U.S. are now behind you, half are still in front. The “average” church that you are standing in front of is called the “median” church. You look to see how many people are lined up behind it, and you see 75 people. That is right, half the churches in the United States have less than 75 people.

The average or “mean” church at 184 is 2.45 times the size of the average median church at 75. Why is this so? If you continue walking, you will get a better understanding of how skewed church numbers are within the United States.

So, you continue walking, past the churches of 80, 90, 100, 110. You walk until you have passed 90% of all the churches. You look to your left and you see 350 people lined up behind this church. Much to your surprise, although you have passed 90% of all the churches, over half of the churchgoers are still in front of you! This is why the “mean” is so much higher than the “median”. While most of the churches in the United States are small, most of the attenders go to large churches.

You keep walking, past the churches of 360, 370, 380. It isn’t until you reach a church of size 400 that you will have the same number of people behind you as in front of you. This means that half of church attenders in the U.S. go to churches larger than 400. If we were to use the word “average” again, we would see that the “average” or “median” churchgoer was in a church of 400. Not only that, but this means that half of all those who attend church are in less that 10% of the churches!

So now we know the “median” and “mean” of the average church, along with the “median” of the average churchgoer. What about the “mean” of the average attender? Let me mess with your mind a little bit more now. Imagine that you can interview everyone, standing behind each church, and ask them what size church they go to. You then “average” their responses. The “average” or “mean” response from the perspective of an attender is… drum roll please… 1169! Just to help us understand this number, let me give you an example. If you have 1000 people attending churches of 75 in size, then you would also have 1000 people attending churches whose sizes averaged out to 2263 people each. If you average out their responses you get the average or “mean” number of 1169. ((2263+75)/2=1169)

churchattendanceTo see what this looks like graphically I created a graph of 100 representative churches. If you took a cross section of 100 churches from all the churches across America, the graph of those churches would look something like this. The churches are along the bottom of the graph. Their attendance ranges from 10 for the smallest church to 4000 for the largest. In reality, we do have churches much larger that than 4000, but out of every 100 churches, you might have 1 megachurch of about 4000 in size. As you can see, most church attenders in America (and the same holds true for Canada), attend big churches. Half of them attend churches larger than 400 and many of these are experiencing church many times that size. In fact, out of every 100 churches, the one largest church (in my example 4000 attenders) would have as many attenders as the lowest 70 churches combined!

This has huge implications for denomination structures and for Pastors.

Lets take an extreme example, the case of the Brethren in Christ in Canada (not to be confused with the Christian and Plymouth Brethren). For those not familiar with the Brethren in Christ, their theological heritage and influences are Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan. Right now, as I understand it, they are part of a North American Conference for decision making. What would happen if the Canadian churches, for whatever reasons, needed to go their own way? In Canada, half of the attenders of Brethren in Christ churches are in associated with a single church, The Meeting House, which has experienced significant numerical growth over the past 10 years. Currently it has over 50 staff, spread over 9 locations, with most meeting in movie theaters. If half your denomination goes to one church, what do you do when it comes to denominational decision making? One church, one vote? You are then saying that half your people don’t really have any say. One person, one vote, or one pastor, one vote? Then one church wields an inordinate amount of influence within the denomination. And what happens if that one church doesn’t like the direction that the denomination is headed? If it leaves, you lose half of your denomination, half your support for you national office, half of your support for your missionaries, half your support for your educational institutions. (Note that I am using the B.I.C. as a hypothetical example of a separate Canadian entity which does not currently exist.) Such a disproportionate split between numbers of churches and numbers of attenders that are seen throughout the U.S. and Canada, cannot be healthy for denominations. But what should we do about it, if anything? I am interested in hearing your responses.

There is a potentially a greater problem when it comes to bible college and seminary graduates, most of whom will eventually aspire to become solo or senior pastors. As previously shown, if these students come from churches in the same proportions as church attenders, then 50% of seminary students, come from roughly 8% to 9% of the churches. Their life experience in church is with larger churches. If they are initially placed as an associate, they will be building on their experience in other large churches. Yet, 90 percent of senior pastoral positions are in churches less than 350 people, and 50 percent of senior pastoral positions are in churches less than 75 people.

So they get placed in inappropriate situations: In places where people enjoy their church of 50 and don’t really want it to change. In places where power-point is a dirty word. In places where words like “missional” and “emerging” don’t really compute. In places where three piece suits still rule the day on Sunday morning. In places where you still can hear, “If the King James was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me.” So the church gets frustrated, and the Pastor gets frustrated, and unless there is some give and take, it is a relationship that doesn’t last long. Some Pastor’s will get so frustrated that they will be out of ministry within a relatively short time frame.

Has this been your experience, either from the perspective of the church or the Pastor? What are the solutions? What can we do to prepare our Pastors and our churches better? I would love to hear some of your ideas?

I have just touched upon one aspect of the The National Congregations Study. I would also encourage you to follow the link to the original report and read some of the other interesting information that they have gathered about American congregations. Compared to most statistical studies that I read, this one is particularly well written.


  1. Power pint is a dirty word in our small congregation, too.

    It takes guts to preach the full council of God ( His law and His gospel)…no matter if there are 20 in the pews…or two thousand.

    This strong word was preached to sixteen:



    And they won’t thank you for it most of the time.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      On this one Steve I am right there with you. Power Point in church services is awful – really, as a speaker, is the pastor that unskilled an poorly trained? Unless he is presenting something that needs visuals – like *data*, and he almost *never* is – it serves no point but to show a glib ‘inspirational’ image or a verse in a 36pt type face. He could have just read me the verse.

      But to each there own. If it is a hit somewhere I am happy for them. I just don’t get it. [but then, I have to watch and make presentations all week… so that might change my perspective].

      • I’m surely just parroting a quip I read here recently at iMonk, but it bears repeating:

        “Power corrupts. Power Point corrupts absolutely.”

        But projected bible verses and hymns do free people’s hands up, so that they don’t have to spend so much time actually becoming familiar with the contents of the Bible and hymnals.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          I’ll pile on. When I was in the stage of my life that involved relocating every few years, this meant that I also did my share of church shopping. I learned quickly that having the sanctuary equipped for Power Point correlated strongly with it being a church I would never join. The correlation was so strong that I could merely glance inside the sanctuary, see a screen, and know this wasn’t for me. Doubly so if the screen is front a center: where the cross would be, were it a church into that sort of thing.

          On a related note, there is an inverse relationship between the quality of the liturgy and the quality of the sound system. If there is a professional-grade sound booth in the back, you are assured of a lousy service. A sound system with static and the occasional injection of police radio warms the cockles of my heart.

          • To each his own Richard. The converse probably holds true for me.

          • Robert F says

            I’ve never sat through a Power Point sermon, but I’ve sat through enough Power Point business presentations to feel that this technique is not one I would like to be audience to during a sermon. What I feel inevitably would be removed by Power Point is the poetic depths of the gospel, the depths that resist being schematized into flat, businesslike delivery, the depths that rebel against the all-too practical absolutism of power point presentation, the depths that recoil from the machine-like efficiency of business office idioms.

          • Oh, Michael, it is about SO much more than personal preference.

      • Don’t forget the Holy Slide Transition Effects.

    • Steve,

      What does power point have to do with preaching the whole counsel of God?

      Do you think Steve Jobs was a less effective communicator because he used power point?

      I am a visual learner. Seeing the pastor’s points makes them much easier for me to learn. I also know that my kids are much more attentive when power point is included in the sermon.

      • I would argue that most folks are visual learners albeit not exclusively so (at any rate, that’s what they told me to say in graduate school). Auditory and kinesthetic/tactile learning (i.e., doing stuff) are equally important to help folks “get it.” And our society is increasingly becoming easily distracted and disinterested if some level of attention grabbing (for lack of a better words) is not sprinkled in for good measure. It is what it is.

        So, I suppose we could say that PP is a distraction and that everyone should just sit quietly and listen to a one to two hour sermon. Yeah, right! Those days are over! I advocate for teaching an old message using new media, that is to say, the gospel in all it’s purity, simplicity and complexity using whatever medium is most likely to capture the attention and travel through the brain down to the heart and out to the hands of as many as possible. No one has yet to convince me that PP is the bane of the Church. It’s not; it’s just a teaching tool. And like any tool, it can be used ineffectively to distract or effectively to attract.

        And yes, I understand that anything can be taken too far, and that many churches entertain more than teach, and that what they do teach is mostly theistic moralism (“you will see on the screen seven ways that you, too, can be a better whatever”) than preach the gospel. But it’s not the medium that’s to blame, it’s the quality of the message, first and foremost, and the effective use of the medium, secondary but also important.


        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          All primates are visually-oriented. Sight is our primary sense.

          In Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill implied that one of the practical reasons behind Torah’s prohibition of graven images was to force the early Jews’ mind away from the all-primate “Monkey See, Monkey Do” into more abstract thinking, engaging the Spoken (and later Written) Word instead of the eye candy of all the others. Transcending the Animal.

          And modern audiovisual media work against that process.

          • I respectfully disagree. I don’t mean to sound elitists but I would rather read and learn from the research of cognitive psychologists and instructional technologists with regards how people learn and retain information and the effective application of instructional tools which aid in this process, rather than the non-empirical impressions of those who have no idea what they’re talking about.

            Perhaps I was sick on the day when they taught about graven images in my catechism class, but as I have come to understand it, the prohibition against graven images was to suppress the worship of other gods, as was the habit of most folks back then, and to focus worship on the one true God.

            What any of this has to do with apes and PP is beyond me.

      • Powerpoint reminds me of a business meeting. And with all the time I spend at work that is the last thing I want to see. I have a different perspective on worship. I come to spend time in the presence of the Lord. I’m not trying to be aloof, because I really do mean that. I am not coming to learn (a 10 minute homily doesn’t really provide enough time). But I do read scripture a lot and the homily will sometimes point out a perspective that I had not thought of before so I think of it more as a launching point.

        • PP was designed for business, but it quickly gained ground in education and later in churches.

          I view PP (no pun intended) not as a business tool but simply a way to keep folks attention on the message. The more senses a student uses the more likely s/he is to retain the material and to get deeper down the cognitive scale. This has already been shown to be true in the academic lecture halls; I do not understand why it would not be true also in the sanctuary.

          I know a church in town which has an organ & choir, hymns-only service and another contemporary band & music service. Perhaps they should consider having a sermon with PP and sermon sans PP services. Let’s see, that would be four services to accommodate all permutations worship and A/V styles.

          What else can we come up with to divide over?

          • +1

            The fact that PP is an issue might be a sign we have too much time on our hands in this country. 😉

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Long ago I read that in the military, they call staff officers who use too much PowerPoint “PowerPoint Commandos”. It’s not a complement.

          • It would be interesting to know what kind of PP training the “Power Point Commandos” received. I would assume that an organization which function it is to defend us from the bad guys by way of killing them and destroying their stuff is perhaps not the best place to learn about the effective use of PP.

            I will not tell the Air Force how to fly a plane or the Navy how to sail a boat if they don’t tell me how to use PP.

          • The more senses a student uses the more likely s/he is to retain the material and to get deeper down the cognitive scale. This has already been shown to be true in the academic lecture halls; I do not understand why it would not be true also in the sanctuary.

            That says volumes about what you believe the purpose and goal of preaching is. And it also feeds into Donald Miller’s stereotype of the sermon-as-lecture, where, if I don’t find myself learning anything, I shouldn’t bother coming.

            If that’s how you feel about preaching, then very well! I agree that PP can assist greatly with memory retention. I think a fill-in-the-blank outline in the bulletin is far more effective because it is both visual AND participatory.

            But in our churches, preaching is about something so much more important than the impartation of information. It kills you with the law and raises you with the Gospel. Preaching is a life and death situation for us. Or perhaps, I should say, a death and resurrection situation. Because what your hearers need more than anything is the life that Christ gives. This life is not an idea to be grasped or a set of instructions to be followed: it is a crucified and risen Savior encountered in Word and Sacrament. To these spiritual ends, PP cannot add a thing.

          • Miguel, you raise some very good points with which I agree with you. Someone once told me that my style is to get to the heart by way of the mind. And although that’s a simplistic way to put it, there is some truth in it.

            As you said, preaching is more than the transfer of information, it is the imparting the life of Christ to the hearer. And that is, in fact, my aim. Clearly I go about it differently than what you would find in a Lutheran church such as the one you attend or even a Reformed church such as Michael Horton’s church, with which I have more doctrinal congruity. But my congregation would not tolerate the sort of preaching style you’re describing. Most of my folks left Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptists, Catholic and other churches, mostly Evangelical, because they wanted something different, namely a family atmosphere with a somewhat contemporary worship (some hymns some modern stuff) and a teaching that balances doctrine and discipleship (application). And that’s what I have to work with. And they like PP a lot and a short video now & then.

            I realize that many who read this will come to the conclusion that we’re just another Evangelical congregation, a mile wide and an inch deep. Perhaps so. But we’re deeper today and less wide than we were two or three years ago. Of greater importance to me is that they’re coming to church, they’re hearing the gospel, and not just the gospel of the cross but the full gospel of the kingdom, they’re being encouraged, they’re being taught the drama, the doctrine, what true doxology is (I came close to becoming a casualty of the “worship war” a couple of years ago), they’re enjoying fellowship, they’re experiencing community, they’re serving humanity, they’re shrinking back from being so damn political, etc. I effect, they’re being transformed by the renewing of their minds–slowly, yet meaningfully.

            So, as I’ve confessed to my closest associates, I would be perfectly content in a Presbyterian church (OPC, PCA or Cumberland), or other conservative Reformed church where, as you well said, the focus is more on “the life that Christ gives…not an idea to be grasped or a set of instructions to be followed: it is a crucified and risen Savior encountered in Word and Sacrament.” Sounds wonderful, really, something close to what I’ve heard Michael Horton say. But then who will shepherd my sheep? Many would end up in just another typical Evangelical church down the street singing KLOVE songs and saying, “wasn’t the worship wonderful today!?” to be followed by listening to theistic moralism, where the emphasis is on discipleship w/o the drama, doctrine or doxology, that is, “graceless grace.” One large church close by even endorses candidates from the pulpit and scares the hell out of people with messages of impending Armageddon if we don’t elect more Republicans! I guess I’ll just have to keep doing what I’m doing where I’m doing and wit the people God has placed in my care. I guess I will just have to wander in the wilderness here and there, now & then, and then drive back to the city before 10.00a on Sunday and crank up the PP.

            BTW & FWIW…I hate the fill-in-the-blanks stuff; what that achieves is fairly low on the cognitive scale, by which I mean, a little knowledge with some sprinkling of comprehension and application. But not much when it comes to wisdom, though.

            Sorry for rambling so much.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        I don’t deny that PowerPoint can be used effectively. The problem is that it rarely is, and that this tendency is built into the medium.

        Here is an example of a visual supplement done well, from before PowerPoint existed. I fondly recall a particular history professor from college. He was a fantastic lecturer. One thing he did that was incredibly helpful is he set up an overhead projector to the side with an outline of that session’s lecture. He didn’t refer to it. It was simply there. It made the structure of each lecture completely apparent, making his point clearer and making it easier to take good notes. Many presentations would benefit from something like this.

        The problem with PowerPoint is that its format restricts the user to small snippets of information. Small snippets of information can be built into a large cohesive structure, but by only showing the snippets it tends to obscure the larger structure. An example from a church setting is that old fogey churches like mine tend to favor hymns that have these larger structures. A good hymn is not merely a musical interlude between various parts of the Service of the Word. A good hymn can be a teaching tool, with sound theology and a point to make. Sure, lots of people will just sing along mindlessly; but some will pay attention to what they are singing and contemplate its meaning. Breaking it down to single lines makes this difficult. Having the entire text laid out before your eyes facilitates it.

        The next problem with PowerPoint is that its format encourages everything to be reduced to bullet points. Bullet points sometimes–perhaps even often–are a useful tool to summarize information. Sometimes–perhaps even often–they are not. But bullet points is what PowerPoint does well, so everything tends to get crammed into that format.

        Another problem with PowerPoint is that it cries out to be continually used, whether or not it is helpful at that particular moment. Not using it at that particular moment means either a blank screen staring out at you, or worse, the last slide from the part of the presentation that used slides. The imperative is to put up something–anything!–rather than simply presenting that particular bit of material in the best way.

        In short, the problem with PowerPoint is that people think it is a universal tool. It is like carrying a wrench around and thinking you have a full toolkit: fine if you need to tighten a nut, but not terribly helpful if you really need to drive a screw.

        • Ah yes, the overhead projector; why did we ever ditch that most glorious of A/V gadgets (I’m being sarcastic, in case you haven’t figured it out). It took me over a year to get rid of those things at the campus where I served as academic dean for 15 years. And when the last holdout finally gave in (we stopped buying replacement lamps, I think is what did the trick) he told him how wonderful the document camera and data projectors were and why I had not told him about them before (they were at his disposal for over a year, mind you; he just didn’t want to learn how to use them).

          One of the problems we observed across universities back in the early to min 90’s when PP was first made available is that professors tended to use them the same way they used an overhead projector, which is to say, they dumped a bunch of notes on a slide without a thought on how to use the newer technology as it was intended to be used, sort of like hitching a mule to a perfectly working automobile. The slides they created were horrendous in every respect, but they refused to learn new pedagogical methods to enhance their lectures with PP and settled for making their students miserable with an ineffective use of the technology. I even tried providing training seminars but got few bites.

          I believe that something similar is happening in our churches, except that we are even further behind the learning curve when it comes to the effective use of technology.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The problem with PowerPoint is that its format restricts the user to small snippets of information. Small snippets of information can be built into a large cohesive structure, but by only showing the snippets it tends to obscure the larger structure.

          I already have major problems with not seeing the forest instead of every cell on every vein on every leaf on every twig of every branch of every tree. I was well into my Twenties before I could handle — barely — the firehose-into-a-teacup Information Overload and look above the level of Every Tiny Detail.

          Given that, the LAST thing I need is PowerPoint. It forces you into Hyperdetail mode with no inkling of how it all fits together, and the last thing we need is more individual atomization.

          The problem with PowerPoint is that its format restricts the user to small snippets of information. Small snippets of information can be built into a large cohesive structure, but by only showing the snippets it tends to obscure the larger structure.

          And “When all you have is a hammer…”

          • “…the LAST thing I need is PowerPoint. It forces you into Hyperdetail mode with no inkling of how it all fits together, and the last thing we need is more individual atomization.”

            I respect your opinion, but again I must respectfully disagree. As an avid user of PP and other instructional media and equipment (my doctorate is in instructional technology and educational computing) I have never found myself forced to do anything other than what I wanted to do in the first place. PP let’s me show both the macro and and the micro; it’s all on how it is used, and to do so in a way which best conveys the information I’m trying to get across.

      • Couldn’t your pastor just as easily include an outline in the bulletin? It’s far less work than preparing a powerpoint presentation, and you can take it home with you.

        • Or… The pastor (i.e., “me”), who so much enjoys making PP presentations, could get a thrill out of preparing his sermon using PP and then provides a handout of the slides at the church’s web site for anyone who wants to print out the notes.

          • Oh, I see. You’re one of THOSE people who actually ENJOY making those confounded things. Well then, knock yourself out! I imagine visual learners would appreciate it, and auditory ones can just close their eyes. But are you doing anything for the tactile learners? (hint hint: FILL-IN-THE-BLANK) 😀 Also helps with the attention deficit. Just sayin.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            For those auditory learners closing their eyes, is it permissible to also snore?

          • Not a whole lot of hands-on stuff on Sunday morning, certainly not by way of fill-in-the-blanks stuff (I addressed that elsewhere in this post). By the way, fill-in-the-blanks has not been found to be effective, that I am aware of, in helping folks with attention deficit (they usually end up doodling on the notes page or making paper airplanes). What does help tactile learners is modeling, mentoring and ministry. I should know, I fit into that category, which is why I like “doing” PP, by the way.

            As I stated elsewhere, there is no single learning style; everyone learns through multiple senses but some have preference for the visual, others for hearing, and others need to get it into it in some form or another at some point. This is not rocket science.

            Sounds as though you guys are mostly auditory learners and therefore have a difficult time understanding why visual learners like prefer a visual medium.

            As for closing your eyes, snoring, seriously? That’s a sign of a boring sermon or a previous bad night, w/ or w/o PP.

    • My point about power point was not so much its inherent positives or negatives, but that the fact that your young pastor and your older congregation will have two different expectations. The comments here reinforce that fact.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Hey, I am not old [41], and I work in IT. I have even installed projectors in churches. I just do not see a value add in that context. And it makes an easy distraction.

        • Well, we juggle the service book and a bulletin insert with the Collect, etc. on one side and the scripture readings on the other, so I can see where a projection of the Collect and Scripture readings could be helpful. But I can’t stand projectors. I like classic liturgy, and classic architecture, and PP is just jarring in that context.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            If they were only turned on when it actually added value – that would be great. But the temptation once they are there seems overwhelming – use it all the time, for every purpose. “Jarring” is a good word; and it is easily to slip into – as we are all now trained to do – ‘screen watching mode’.

          • Sometimes its better just to listen with your eyes closed….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It takes guts to preach the full council of God ( His law and His gospel)…no matter if there are 20 in the pews…or two thousand.

      This strong word was preached to sixteen:

      In my experience, “the full council of God” and “the Strong Word” means Turn-or-BURN Screamed In Your Face. The SCRIPTURAL beatdown that you will NEVER be a Real Christian, the Counting Coup from the Real True Christian doing the screaming.


      And they won’t thank you for it most of the time.

      And you can then pat yourself on the back for your Gutsiness.

    • Steve, I like to use my iphone to read the bible. Could I do this in your church service?

    • Ali Griffiths says

      One thing that some of us forget is that for people who are visually impaired or have learning difficulties sometimes Powerpoint is more accessible than books. I am just about to invest in Powerpoint for that reason at their request in our tiny church. It’s also the reason I insist everyone uses the microphones – those with hearing aids need it. Limits what we do sometimes but at least this way everyone can access what is happening.

  2. So is “point”.

    “Power Pint’…I like it 😀

  3. Who says that a church has to be ANYTHING? When Jesus said that the way was straight and the gate was narrow, and that there are few that find it I don’t believe He was only referring to the saved and the lost. But for some reason we still resort to numbers and size to judge relevance and success.

    What is the worth in fellowship, worship and a missional life style? In a small church it is apparent to all when we fall into irrelevance, but in a large church we can comfort ourselves with activity engaged in by others and, by transference, include ourselves in that relevant group. We need not ACTUALLY do anything, we can always comfort ourselves with the illusion that “we” are making a difference. In a smaller church it is harder to be self deluded in that manner. We have to fall on our face and cry out to God for forgiveness and for help because we know that we are impotent and need Him. Few there be that find it…INDEED!

    • In Catholic circles a large church means you can get lost, be one of the numbers, and just show up and be anonymous. Less of a chance someone inviting you to join a committee or actually participate in church life….

  4. This explains why TV evangelists have so much political power in the USA.

  5. Nicely explained.
    If you analyzed income you would get a similar graph, which tells a lot about poverty in the US. That chart is a real Indictment on our society.

    P.S. I kind of like Power Pint, too!
    P.P.S. I suspect Canada would look a little better, Mike.

  6. Adam Tauno Williams says

    This is a really nice way to survey the data. Well done.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      It would be interesting to see a GIS overlay of mean church size to population density. Do ‘small’ churches exist due to geographical reasons [few people available]? A church in a Brooklyn just has more people available to it than a church …anywhere… in North Dakota? Church size to per-sq-mile-population would be cool. And where the mega-churches sit what is the radius of their “market”?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      The survey source document references that “Clergy age faster than the population at large”. This many be numerically true but it might not be as disturbing as it sounds. You see this in all kinds of data – it is certainly true of Engineers in the United States [where something like 30%+ will be retiring in the next decade].

      America a graying nation – http://t.co/MAMkqayi6a

      And the age of those in senior positions can be indexed to the inception date of an institution, or when it last had a growth spurt. A church founded in the 50s/60s will likely have older members – as they were the people who filled it, and filled the positions. These things can turn over in cycles – a senior pastor is naturally one with more experience than a junior pastor, and thus is possibly older.

  7. In all the discussions I have seen on this site of what constitutes church: polity, size, demographics, politics, tradiTION, charismania and the like, I have seen little about what I believe is of primary importance and that is spiritual development and growth into maturity. Learning to walk in a life style of forgiveness, non-judgmentalism, and love. The question might be, what is the best means to help people on the way to Christ-likeness?

    • Actually Carol if you look through the archives you will find a lot of material on spiritual development and growth into maturity.

      Feb 26: Jesus-Shaped Spirituality: A Eucharistic Life
      Feb 24: iMonk Classic: What Is Jesus-Shaped Spirituality?
      If you keep digging you will find lots. It is often referred to as spiritual formation.

      • Rick Ro. says

        I’ll second what Ken says, Carol M. Plenty of stuff here in the archives about what Jesus-shaped spirituality is.

        Also keep in mind: contributors here often take an approach that doesn’t describe what Jesus-shaped spirituality IS, but rather they give a glimpse at what Jesus-shaped spirituality is NOT. I think that’s natural from a community of believers burned by religiosity and churchianity.

        • All right. I stand corrected. But I have to agree that reading the comments of most of the regulars is not up-building. Interesting, amusing, informative, yes. Discipling? Not so much.

    • I’m not sure how I fell about labeling the judge of all the world “non-judgmental.” Something just seems a bit odd there. 😛

      Perhaps “merciful” is a more apt term.

  8. It seems like there is a recursive relationship between this data and independent churches. After all, 1000+ congregants = lots of money, and in a denominational structure, if the distribution holds, that means sharing some of this wealth. I would love to see a correlation between congregation size and denominational affiliation.

  9. David Cornwell says

    While I personally very much dislike powerpoint in worship services, I can see where it might be used in an innovative way to communicate the ancient truths to new generations of people. My preferences are a church where worship is participative, sacramental, and the Word is proclaimed in preaching that is framed by the ancient creeds. Also such a church should be in mission to its community.

    Most of us will have to compromise on some aspect(s) of the choices we make.

  10. Michael Z says

    It would be interesting to see how this data breaks down by regions of the country, or by urban / suburban / rural communities. For example, where I live (Boston) there are approximately 700 churches in the city, of which, as far as I know, only 3 have weekly attendance above 1000 people.

    It seems to me that in some regions of the country (such as the South and, to a lesser degree, the Midwest), the prevailing culture encourages people to attend church and confers social benefits on those who do. Most megachurches are found in those contexts. I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about cultures where people seem to be more “religious.” On the one hand, it’s a good thing for so many people to be attending church. But on the other hand, I wonder how many of them are _only_ going for cultural reasons, and would stop going if the culture around them stopped rewarding them for doing so…

    • MIchael, I think you’re right about regional variations. Indeed, I read somewhere that of the 1,200+ megachurches in the US, only a handful were in New England. They just don’t compute there, for whatever complex of reasons (cultural, expensive land, etc.)

      Moreover, if I may say so, my distinct impression is that New England evangelicals simply carry themselves differently (more “Canadian”?) than do evangelicals in the rest of the country, and the different population proportions no doubt are a large part of the story.

      Michael Spencer predicted — and we’ll have to see, I guess — that the rest of the country will secularize far more quickly and thoroughly than seems conceivable at the present time. In other words, we’ll all become a lot more like the Northeast. Again, we’ll have to wait and see if that’s true or whether it’s more of a drawn-out process.

    • You forgot southern California, which is another megachurch haven.

  11. The SBC shows similar concentration among their churches with 1,000 in attendance or greater. See: http://thomrainer.com/2013/08/03/2013-update-largest-churches-in-the-southern-baptist-convention/

  12. David Cornwell says

    It sometimes seems easy to overestimate the number of people who attend one’s church on Sunday morning . The church I attend seems to be gradually increasing its attendance, but I have no idea what the actual numbers might be. But I look around me in the sanctuary some mornings, and it seems fuller than in the past. When I give a number I’m probably guessing on the hgh side of a good Sunday morning.

  13. This distribution probably holds true for a lot of things. Rating athletes, artists, writers, musicians by “success” would likely fit. That would be a reflection of talent or ability. To some extent this might hold true in church size. I would be interested in why those who attend mega-churches in Boston or Dallas do so. Is there a different psychology at work? I would think one attraction for some of a very large church is you could get away with anonymity, minimal interaction with others.

    This is beside the pint, but I believe that a group of any kind changes character when the population goes over something like 150. That is roughly the maximum number of people most people can remember names and faces. Over that you need representative government and hierarchy.

    My worst ever pastor on Wednesday or Sunday evenings when there were only enough people to sit in the first couple rows would speak for awhile, then turn his back and pray for everyone there by name. I always thought of it a stunt. Don’t know what he thought.

  14. I don’t mind Power Point at all. In fact, if I were a pastor, I’d probably use it, too. And it sounds like many of you wouldn’t attend my church, just because of that. Which seems weird to me. But that’s fine; if Power Point is a show-stopper for your ability to worship, I guess that’s the way it is. However, for many people it isn’t. And that’s fine, too.

    • Your missing the point. The projector screen by itself is survivable. The problem is usually in the answer to why it was put in. Churches who use these screens nearly universally tend to do other things that would prevent us from worshiping there. Think about this: though any song can be sung off a screen, what does the installation of one say about the desired repertoire? If we value the church’s heritage of song, it’s usually contained in the books in front of us, therefore no need for a screen. If we’re desiring to put up the latest, newest songs, which are rotated out after a few years and replaced with more disposable tunes, then screens become fairly essential. Now obviously, you could sing all and only old hymns with a projector, and you could singing only new songs printed in your bulletin. But this is so seldom the case that when it is, it is the exception that proves the rule.

      And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to screens: repertoire. There’s dozen of other things which tend to come with it. Our church uses them. They are a thorn in my backside and I wish we didn’t. It is unfortunately too late to take them down without causing great offense. I only hope to find creative strategies for making the books in the pew continue to receive the kind of use where their contents and substance will still influence our lives, ’cause once a screen goes up, people forget that books ever existed. And usually what the books gave us will not be replicated on the screen. Some very important things can become lost.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Hmm…I could argue the reason that songs/hymns are in book format is because they didn’t have projector and power-point technology back in the day. Books were the only form of written medium for centuries. If they could’ve written songs and printed them easily back in the 15th-19th centuries, we’d probably have a lot more hymns in our hymnals, AND we’d probably have a lot of different hymnals. So I think the comparison between formats is pretty weak. That said, I’ll let you argue CONTENT all you want; yes, the quality of output has gone down with the quantity of output. Not sure that has much to do with presentation, though.

        • If what you are saying is true, then they would have quit publishing hymnals after they invented the projection screen. Hymnal sales are actually up, by the way. There’s a bigger difference between the mediums than the level of technology: one comes with a bit more permanence.

          …and we really couldn’t possibly have MORE hymns in our hymnals – held one lately? Any heavier and they’d loose utility. There are also hundreds of hymnals currently in print, so we have no shortage of variety. Something you print and include in a collection is in your church for 50 years. Something you put on a screen can be gone in as little as three seconds. Would that our singing focused on songs worth keeping around longer. Churches that tend to more often sing from books than screens.

          • Robert F says

            Do the projected hymns/songs include parts, so that those unable to sing the melody line due to vocal range limitations can sing the harmonies (provided they know even a smidgin about reading music, like myself)? Or are the projected hymns/songs only for the stars singing the melody line?

  15. David Cornwell says

    The United Methodist Church is interesting as to the question of growth. Globally the UMC is gaining in attendance and membership, while here in the USA it is mostly still in decline. However the large bulk of financial support still comes from American churches. One article has pointed out that the UMC is transitioning from a liberal to a global church, with conservative African churches being in the forefront. This development seems to have arrested any hope of homosexual ordination happening in this denomination.

    Very interesting developments.

  16. I don’t really care for power-point in sermons but that is because I see a high correlation between power point sermons and extremely shallow content. The reduction of the message to bullet points also works nicely with “7 Ways To Spice Up Your Marriage” topical type sermons. (Way 1 – slide, Way 2 – next slide, etc)

    I think it can be used effectively. I just rarely see it done.

  17. Am I the only one who thinks this is absolutely hilarious how Mike has written this excellent post about numbers and statistics, and the comment section is overwhelmingly devoted to debating a peripheral side note only mentioned in passing? Sorry, Mike, you stepped on the hornet’s nest with that one. 😛

    Sometimes it just really makes this site feel like a congregation of its own. Heated debate over what was never the point to begin with – that has got to be one of the true marks of the church.

    • Rick Ro. says

      LOL! Very true, Miguel. “Ye must be baptized in the Spirit of Power Point!” “No, Jesus did not need Power Point to convert the thief on the cross!”

    • Hilarious wasn’t quite the first word that came to mind. 😛

      I was tempted to truncate the comments at Steve’s first comment. But before I could get to it the cat was already out of the proverbial bag.

      Que sera sera.

      Sometimes it just really makes this site feel like a congregation of its own. Heated debate over what was never the point to begin with – that has got to be one of the true marks of the church.” +1

      • We still love you Michael Bell even if you came close to raising Microsoft up as an idol…

    • cermak_rd says

      Reminds me of that TV show, the “Vicar of Dibley” I could for sure see the vestry having a presentation like this and then seizing on a tangential point.

    • Well, you guys started it by bashing the use of visual presenters in church. Hey, my academic discipline is instructional technology. If nothing else I made a decent living off of it. What am I supposed to say, that I wasted my time in graduate school or that I can’t apply what I have found to be effective in a church setting just because you guys are a bunch of PP Luddites?

      Well, at least it gave me a refreshing break from having to defend Calvinism.

      • Nice to be on the same side for a change. I personally think Calvinism is indefensible. 😀

        • Defending Calvinism is the Olympic sport of theology. I used to enjoy it very much, ’cause most arguments against it are based on misconceptions of it. I very rarely hear anti-Calvinist rhetoric that actually demonstrates a coherent understanding of the Westminster Standards. The critiques usually stay at the level of cultural trends and celebrity quirks.

          • How true! Thank you for your insight on this, Miguel.

            And I would add that I find that biggest critics of Calvinism are neither Arminians nor Lutherans but “Cafeteria Christians,” which, by the way, is how I affectionately label most pastors in my association.

            Man, I get mighty lonesome sometimes!

        • Michael, I very much appreciate your humor. Are you sure your not Cuban? Next best thing to being Calvinist.