America’s 100 Largest Churches Doubled in Size During the Decade!

List reveals that megachurches are radically redefining size
the traditional definition of “large” church.

Copyright 2011. John N. Vaughan. All Rights Reserved.

The Church Growth Today list of America’s 100 Largest Churches for 2010 has now been released.  An amazing discovery was revealed while comparing it to the 100 Largest Churches list published at the beginning of the decade.   While the smallest church in the list then had 4,000 in attendance, the smallest church in the new 2010 list begins at 8,000 attendance.  The smallest church has doubled during the 10 years.  More surprising is the fact that the attendance for the largest church in the same list since a decade ago increased four-fold from 11,000 to 44,800.  

Lakewood Church of Houston tops both lists in 2000 and 2010.  The church has never been a multi-site campus church in a nation where the 2010 list reveals that 57 percent of the nation’s largest churches now meet at more than one location each weekend.  You heard it here first.  

This doubling factor means that nearly 40 churches below 8,000 attendance listed by others are not included in the 2010 Church Growth Today list of the 100 largest churches.  That is unfortunate, but it does not change the facts.  The baseline for the 100 largest churches is now 8,000 and not the 4,000 of a decade ago or nearly 5,000 as others have recently publicized.

The most recent Church Growth Today list includes 103 of the nation’s largest churches, rather than the usual 100 churches, because the  last 12 churches in the list each are listed as having an average weekend attendance of 8,000 attendees.  The list is based on churches in the historic evangelical tradition and includes denominational, independent, charismatic, and non-charismatic congregations. 

The study is based on self-reporting attendance by most churches as well as available denominational databases, periodicals, and churches researched by Church Growth Today for more than two decades. No study like this is able to include absolutely all churches but every repeated effort is made to include all known churches.  An estimated 99 percent of all churches in the category are believed to be included in the research.  New churches are  also continually emerge.

Catholic churches are not included since they tend to count numerical households rather than individual attendees like other denominations and churches.  More than 1.2 million people attended the 103 churches listed in Church Growth Today on an average weekend during the year 2010.  The total attendance for all 203 of the nations largest churches included in the research was 2.8 million people on an average weekend.

Two research associates were enlisted to aid the research for the first time in 2008.  John Mayer, founder and director of City Vision is a major Minneapolis area researcher and specializes in Minnesota regional growing churches.  Maryland based financial consultant Glen Jackson specializes in African-American congregations and is considered by Church Growth Today to be among the best in the nation.  

Church lists are a trust and a living record of God’s mighty acts in our generation.  They did not exist before Elmer Towns’ 1969 book The 10 Largest Sundays, How They Grow.  Before that book, ignorance reigned.  No one could name the largest church, much less the 10 or 100 largest churches in the nation. Critics of churches in the print media could fabricate whatever story they wanted and never have an informed response from church leaders. 

There are no perfect lists and that included even the Towns’ lists that followed his book.  But they do provide today’s church leaders a broader glimpse of Kingdom impact in areas like church planting trends and strategy, urban ministry impact, and multiplication of next generation groups and leaders. Even today there are instances when all we can record is “about 3,000 people” (Acts 3:41) or “about 5,000” (Acts 4:4).

Throughout scripture, God’s major leaders and churches are known to us today by name in written documents.  We know that “about 3,000 people” were added to the church in one day according to Acts 3:41.  We know about their leaders and how they served their own generation.  Today’s lists and the growth stories are a small part of the living records about Kingdom mission and ministry in this generation.  Acts 13:36 records, “For David…served his own generation by the will of God….”  

CHURCH GROWTH TODAY celebrates 25 years (1985-2010).
Church Growth Today celebrated 25 years of researching and listing both America’s 100 Largest Churches list and the America’s 100 Fastest Growing Churches in 2010.  Church Growth Today is both an organization and a publication (newsletter, books, seminars, web media, and web conferences). 

Both America’s 100 Largest Churches and America’s 100 Fastest Growing Churches are exclusive copyrighted branding designations used by researcher John N. Vaughan in his newsletter Church Growth Today for more than two decades.  Most major U.S. and global media sources have quoted these resources since 1985.  The new lists, America’s 200 Largest Churches and America’s 200 Fastest Growing Churches, were added by Church Growth Today in 2008. 

When the North American Society for Church Growth was organized in 1985, the newsletter became the first endorsed publication for memberts of the organization.  Eventually other newsletters began to appear and the organization was able to begin publication of its own journal. Vaughan served as founding editor for the group.

In 2003, the one year old Outreach magazine had no list and asked if it could be allowed to reproduce my America’s 100 Largest Churches and America’s 100 Fastest Growing Churches lists for a special issue each year.  The lists had already been published for nearly two decades (1985-2003). The annual lists in the magazine made it the most popular isssue and reader demand for the first issue with the lists in 2003 led them to print nearly 1,000 additional copies.

From 2003-2005 the lists were shared with Outreach until 2006 when they decided to produce their own lists similar to the lists shared with them.   So Church Growth Today functionally became the founder of the Outreach magazine 100 Top Churches lists. The basic format that Church Growth Today newsletter has used for 25 years to list the largest churches continues to be used by the newly published magazine. 

Since there were then two publications producing the same kind of list,  I decided to add an additional 100 churches to the annual lists.  So Church Growth Today now researches and publishes lists of  both the 100 and 200 largest churches.  That translates into lots of additional very expensive list information (about 3,000 man hours a year) for new ambitious  list makers for “free”.  So in 2005 Church Growth Today once again began publishing its lists totally independent of Outreach.  

The branding of Church Growth Today and the author’s name were strong enough that many readers thought the Outreach lists were still coming from Church Growth Today for nearly two years. Many actually thought they had already given me their growth information when contacted by Church Growth Today for growth information.   Another nationally known church growth researcher contacted me even four years later to question why I had omitted one of the 20 largest churches in the Outreach list that year.

In this years Church Growth Today 103 Largest Churches list, attendance begins at  8,000 and the second 100 churches are averaging  5,500-7,999.  This range in attendance can vary with the churches from year to year.   All of us can and do celebrate the great growth being experienced by all the churches – those on lists and those that are not. Welcome to 2011 – a new year, a new decade, and new Kingdom challenges!

Church Growth Today’s 103 Largest U.S. Churches List – 2010

Total attendees in these 103 churches on an average weekend:
1.2 million people

Total attendees in all 203 of the nation’s churches in this research
on an average weekend in 2010:

1.8 million people

Affiliated with a denomination?
51% – Denominational        49% – Independent

Top Affiliations (Denominational or Network)
23% – Independendent Charismatic
16% – Independent (Non-Charismatic)
15% – Southern Baptist
11% – Calvary Chapel
  6% – Christian Churches (CC/CC)
  5% – Assemblies of God
  2% – (Each) Evangelical Covenant, Assn of Related Churches
            (ARC), NBC-USA, United Methodists.

Charismatic ?

46% – Yes       54% – No

Current pastor is the founding pastor:
61% – Yes       39% – No

Top Metro Locations of the Churches:
16% – Los Angeles
  7% – Dallas
  7% – Houston
  6% – Atlanta
  5% – Chicago
  4% – New York City

Multi-site worship locations?
67% – Yes
33% – No

Decade church was planted (started):
  4% – Since 2000
21% – 1990s
75% – Pre 1990

Attendance of the churches:
14% – 15,000+
42% – 10,000-14,999
44% – 8,000-9,999 

A total of 10 lists are planned for this 25th Anniversary Edition. They include:
America’s 100 Largest Churches
America’s 200 Largest Churches
America’s 100 Fastest Growing Churches
America’s 200 Fastest Growing Churches
The Decades Fastest Growing Churches
America’s Most Influential Churches
The World’s Largest Churches
Under 5,000 Attendance Fastest Growing Churches
Under 2,000 Attendance Fastest Growing Churches
America’s Largest Single-Campus Churches
America’s Largest multiple-Campus Churches

John N. Vaughan – Church Growth Today
P.O. Box 47 – Bolivar MO 65613  USA

Subject Line: The 200 Largest Churches



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2 Responses to “America’s 100 Largest Churches Doubled in Size During the Decade!”

  1. please bear with me while I pick nits « Half a bridge Says:

    […] everything wrong. First of all he quotes a secondary source [link] rather than the primary source [link]. Then in an attempt to be cute he refers to the largest churches as “gigachurches.” I […]

    • John N. Vaughan Says:

      REPLY to Half ABridge – about the news release you read in the Catholic blog FirstThoughts (their ink):
      From: John N. Vaughan, founder of Church Growth Today.

      Personal thanks to the Catholic blog First Thoughts for sharing my research update from Church Growth Today
      about America’s 100 Largest Churches and the doubling in attendance during the past decade.
      Readers should be aware that because of limited space they were not able to print the full 3 page news release.
      They were simply wantng you as a Catholic reading audience to know what is happening in cities where
      mutitudes of their Catholic readers live.

      Reply to Tieodong: since the local church is Christ in His people – 4000 people is still 4000 people
      whether they meet in an 800 seat worship center seperately four six times or once in a 4000 seat
      worship center. When Katrina scattered the congregatons of metro New Orleans (some had attendance
      of more than 5000) they were still the same congregations. Some were temporarily scatter in several states
      though still linked by live Internet webcasts until they could return home. Some remained in other cities
      and became part of other congregations.

      Reply to Half A Bridge: The only links used in my blogs about the 100 largest churches (non-Catholic)
      are to my own blogs and refer to my own research. I am the source.

      Second, the “gigachurch” reference in the article title was the choice of First Things editorial staff.
      It did not appear anywhere in my press release and I personally don’t use the term.

      As a past president of the American Society for Church Growth I know for fact that the term
      originated from an editor of a magazine I shared my lists with from 2003-2005 and not from any
      church growth authority. It was a pet editorial insertion on her part. “Mega” is a real term used
      in the Greek New Testament multipe times but not “giga”.

      I am impressed, however, that the editor of First Thoughts is aware of the 2003 term.
      I suspect that most editors are not even aware of the term.

      Since a large church just as healthy or sick as a smaller church my news release is simply
      reporting on the increase in both th number and size of the churches. Global congregations
      with 20,000+ attendance hae become much more common than when I wrote my 1985 book
      about several ofthem in my book, The World’s20 Largest Churches.

      There are now 5 U.S. churches (non-Catholic) with 20,000-45,000 weekend attendance and
      nearly 60 with 10,000+ attendance. Though the largest churches in the U.S. are no longer Catholic,
      there may be 5000 U.S. Catholic megachurches compare to the nearly 1700+ non-Catholic megachurches
      of 2000+ attendance. We of all people, as Christians, don’t need to be apologizing for God’s churches of
      any size in a mega-city would being trashed by Satan.

      I have researched and published the lists of America’s 100 Largest Churches an 100 Fastest Growing Churches
      (non-Catholic) in my newsletter Chuch Growth Today since 1985. The research is based on individual attendance.
      Catholic attendance tends to be based more on households than individual counts. I know for fact of many large
      attendance Catholic churches in several cities. For more than two decades I have hoped to see some similar good
      Catholic large church research by Catholics. As a personal note, I attended Catholic schools for six years and am a
      graduate of a Catholic Christian Brothers teaching order school.

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