Over at Les Puryear’s blog, he posted some interesting stats on the number of small churches across denominations. Noting that more than 2/3s of all Episcopal, Lutheran, and Nazarene churches have about 100-or-fewer members, Les asked LifeWay to run the numbers on Southern Baptists. Here’s the result:
In my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I asked the good folks at Lifeway to run a report for me to count the churches based on Primary Worship Service(s) Attendance in 2006. They very graciously attended to my request and sent me the following report:
1-99 attendees = 25,217 churches (62.7%)
100-199 attendees = 8,305 churches (20.7%)
200-299 attendees = 2,850 churches (7.1%)
300-499 attendees = 2,126 churches (5.3%)
500-749 attendees = 788 churches (2.0%)
750-999 attendees = 336 churches (0.8%)
1,000-1,999 attendees = 425 churches (1.1%)
2,000+ attendees = 139 churches (0.3%)
Total Churches = 40,186
Conclusion: Over 90% of SBC churches have less than 300 in attendance. And, as noted above, other denominations are similar. We are a nation of small churches, even though big churches get most of the attention. Les has several posts after this one about the strength and vitality of small churches. Interesting reading and good stuff!
Bradley Wright, associate professor in the sociology of Christianity at the University of Connecticut, has the best analysis of the Willow Creek study I have seen. Wright comes at it from a social science viewpoint, which is appropriate. He commends Willow Creek for tackling the survey, but critiques their methodology and interpretation.
Wright says that Willow Creek made the following mistakes:
- Willow Creek’s study is a marketing study more appropriate for “brands” than people.
- Willow Creek over-interpreted the data. Social science studies are more nuanced and results are less dramatic. Particularly helpful is Wright’s discussion of ‘regression to the mean’ in understanding spiritual growth.
- Willow Creek’s 4-stage spiritual growth categories are weak. Wright introduces Starke and Glock’s more detailed identification of religious categories.
- Willow Creek has no control group in its survey data. The result is that there is no benchmark to gauge how other non-WC church members or even non-church members of any group ‘grow’ compared to WC members.
- Willow Creek’s survey is a snapshot, but a longitudinal (long-term) study needs to be done to track the same group over time.
Wright’s analysis is helpful and if you can read all 11-posts on the WC survey, you’ll come away with a lot of good info. Before we all follow Willow Creek off another cliff, Wright offers solid, congenial, and helpful perspectives that should be a lesson for all churches in understanding spiritual growth. Also shows that even a Willow Creek doesn’t get it right all the time.
(Clarification: The use of the word ‘flawed’ in the headline is my choice, not a quote from Wright who avoids using that term directly. However, Wright’s 11-post series analyzing the survey design and execution led me to the conclusion that Wright is telling us there are serious flaws in every aspect of WC’s process. — cw)