From Len Wilson: The Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches In The USA

Blogger, pastor, and statistical analyzer Len Wilson has compiled a list of the 25 fastest growing large (over 1,000 per Sunday) United Methodist Churches in the USA.

You might recognize #19.  And since our 2014 attendance jumped to 1,974, our five year growth rate would move to 28% by the most recent statistics.

Anyway, I admire the comprehensiveness of Wilson’s record-keeping and, more to the point, appreciate his analysis that follows the list. I add one point to his summary: of the 25 pastors leading these churches, at least seven are graduates of Asbury Seminary, including #1 and #2.  Huh.

Here goes, courtesy of Wilson himself:



I believe that the result of creative thinking is innovative practice, and the result of true innovation is growth. While not all growing churches are healthy churches, healthy churches grow, because growth isn’t the goal; it’s the outcome.

Because of this, I like to follow the practices of growing congregations. What innovations are happening in the fastest growing large congregations, and how might other churches learn from them?

In 2011 I published a list of the top 25 fastest growing large United Methodist churches. Here’s the updated list, and 25 of the most innovative churches in the United Methodist Church today.

While average worship attendance is an imperfect indicator, it remains one of the best we have to measure how we’re doing at telling the story of Jesus. While I currently serve in a Presbyterian church, my background is United Methodist, and the United Methodist Church is helpful for such statistical analysis because of its episcopal organizational structure and corporate record keeping.

To qualify as “large” for the sake of this analysis, a congregation must have had at least 1000 in weekly worship in 2013, the most recent full year of average weekly worship attendance records. With the benefit of more years of records since my previous post, I elected to rank the churches on a five-year trend (my previous list was on a 3 yr trend), as a five-year trend offers a more precise indicator of sustained growth.

Click on a header to sort by that row.

Rank Church Name City State Sr Pastor Pastor Since 2013 AWA Rank by size 5 Yr Growth
1 Faithbridge (*) Spring TX Ken Werlein 1998 3,276 9 108%
2 Harvest (*) Warner Robbins GA Jim Cowart 2001 2,443 18 69%
3 Christ (*) Fairview Heights IL Shane Bishop 1997 1,802 48 61%
4 White’s Chapel (*) Southlake TX John McKellar 1992 6,162 2 52%
5 Morning Star (*) O’Fallon MO Mike Schreiner 1999 2,122 30 52%
6 Cornerstone (*) Caledonia MI Bradley Kalajainen 1990 1,751 52 47%
7 First, Flushing (*) Flushing NY Joong Urn Kim 2011 1,520 63 40%
8 Korean Central Irving TX Sung Chul Lee 1990 2,005 36 39%
9 Apex Apex NC Gray Southern 2012 1,361 84 38%
10 Impact Atlanta GA Olu Brown 2007 1,381 83 38%
11 First, McKinney McKinney TX Thomas Brumett 2006 1,443 72 37%
12 Crosspoint Niceville FL Rurel Ausley, Jr 1998 2,689 15 36%
13 New Covenant (*) The Villages FL Harold Hendren 2011 2,034 35 35%
14 Cove Owens Cross Roads AL John Tanner 1997 1,406 76 34%
15 First, Mansfield Mansfield TX Mike Ramsdell / David Alexander 1995 2,305 23 33%
16 St. Luke’s Oklahoma City OK Bob Long 1991 1,464 69 31%
17 Covenant Wintersville NC Branson Sheets 2004 2,048 33 29%
18 Gulf Breeze Gulf Breeze FL Lester Spencer 2011 2,336 21 24%
19 Good Shepherd Charlotte NC Talbot Davis 1999 1,811 46 23%
20 Crossroads (*) Concord NC Lowell McNaney 1995 1,470 67 22%
21 Church of the Resurrection Leawood KS Adam Hamilton 1990 8,895 1 20%
22 Anona Largo FL Jack Stephenson 1993 1,553 62 20%
23 Grace Fellowship Katy TX James Leggett 1996 2,988 12 19%
24 Saint Timothy on the North Shore Mandeville LA James Mitchell 1994 2,170 26 19%
25 The Orchard Tupelo MS Bryan Collier 1997 2,164 27 18%

A few observations:

Nine churches remain from the 2011 list of growing churches.

This means they’ve had a pattern of continuous growth since at least 2006, which is remarkable. They are: Faithbridge, Harvest, Christ, Morning Star, First Flushing, New Covenant, Cornerstone, Crossroads and White’s Chapel. They’re indicated with an asterisk (*) above. Not coincidentally, 7 of these churches occupy the top 7 spots on the 2015 list.

Stable leadership continues to be key.

The average senior pastor’s tenure is over 15 years, and 19 of the 25 have served their churches over 10 years. The median and mode are both 17 years, which means that if you account for four recent changes in leadership, the length of leadership of these fast growing churches is even longer. Of course, a declining church can have a longtime leader as well, so this isn’t directly causal, but it demonstrates that one factor in growth is stability. As long term leaders move closer to retirement, succession will become an issue. First UMC, Mansfield, has recently made changes in its senior leadership to navigate this transition. William Vanderbloemen’s book Next provides further insight.

Most growing churches aren’t overnight sensations.

While perhaps the dream is explosive growth, such as my colleagues and I experienced during my tenure as creative / media director at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in the 1990s, when we grew from 1000 to 3000 in two years, such stories are the exception, not the rule. Most growing churches aren’t overnight sensations; they are the fruit of a long, steady climb in the same direction.

The bias is toward innovation in worship.

10 of the 25 are entirely “contemporary” or “modern” in worship style. 13 have a mix of “traditional” and modern services. Two serve primarily Korean communities, with distinct worship styles fit for their constituency. None are entirely traditional in worship style.

The “Bible Belt” still exists.

20 of the top 25 churches live in what is traditionally known as the “Bible Belt” – below the Mason Dixon line. 6 churches are in Texas (in three UM Annual Conferences), 4 in Florida, and 4 in North Carolina.