Simple Math Church Growth

I like to play with numbers, but confess that at times my crunching can become competitive.  I want to be cautious of this, but nonetheless, as I prepare to begin a new appointment I have been thinking a bit about the future and church growth and started playing with numbers the other day.

Let’s say a church has an average worship attendance of 90.  It wouldn’t be unrealistic to think that over the course of a given year, with some intentionality, a church of this size could become the church home for two new families.  If this does happen, it’s likely that the church could experience growth by about 10% (from 90-99 in worship).  What could happen then if that church were to continue developing intentional efforts to reach new people and continued to see 10% growth each year over the course of the next 15 years?

  • Year 1 – 109
  • Year 2 – 120
  • Year 3 – 132
  • Year 4 – 145
  • Year 5 – 159
  • Year 6 – 175
  • Year 7 – 193
  • Year 8 – 212
  • Year 9 – 233
  • Year 10 – 257
  • Year 11 – 282
  • Year 12 – 311
  • Year 13 – 342
  • Year 14 – 376
  • Year 15 – 414
Sure, people are going to die, and others are going to move away, but this still illustrates an interesting starting point.  If a church averaging about 90 in worship can add a couple of new families one year and then maintain a similar rate of growth for 15 years they could be averaging 414 a week in worship.
What do you think?  Do these numbers represent a plausible scenario?


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8 responses to “Simple Math Church Growth

  1. Mark

    Yes and No.

    I think your assumption that you can bring in 2-5 families a year is correct in a small church. To do this in most small churches you will have some major attrition by rocking the boat. This means about an equal loss or more. Mike Slaughter at Ginghamsburg grew his church from >100 to <60 his first 1-2 years.

    Also, when you have a community like the one I'm in…we CANNOT keep our kids. They are educated and leaders, so they go off to college. Winchester has little to offer in regard to jobs, etc. They move away and never return. The amount of effort, time, and resources that are (rightly) put into developing these persons has no earthside benefit to our local church in the long run. Furthermore, all leadership must be grown, developed, and nurtured at the adult level. It's quite a challenge!

    We have added 2 young families a year for 3 years, and we are currently 30/week under the original average. Giving per unit is up, but giving overall is down…so it takes time and doesn't happen overnight…as least in our context.

    • Jeff Clinger

      Thanks for your comment, Mark. Your Yes and No is a great answer!

      I actually referenced Slaughter’s story in my introductory with Staff Parish. 🙂

      The community I will be serving is educated, growing, and a real bedroom community for two larger metro areas. Young families are choosing to move there and the overall population of the community has doubled in the last 15 years. I am hopeful that some of these realities will give us opportunity for growth. I also realize that boat rocking can cause attrition.

      Most of all I’m excited to see how God works through all of these opportunities in the coming years!

  2. I agree with the earlier commenter. You’ve failed to account for attrition, which is a big number in churches of all sizes in all locations. I don’t have good stats on it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if average attrition is as high as 10-15% per year. So to net 10%, you would have to add as much as 25%. That’s easier from a base of 100 than 400, but not *easy* in any case. 🙂

    • Jeff Clinger

      Huh, so a growing church won’t just make everyone automatically happy and keep them in the pews? 🙂

      Your numbers (10-15% attrition) are helpful in considerations.

  3. It can happen. Especially in small churches…to a point. Your 15 year plan may be pushing it since growing to such a size may mean an additional service which would really rock the boat. Here is what I know. When I arrived average attendance was 71. By Dec. the average was 77. At the end of 2010 average was 89. For the past 5 weeks we have more than 90. My goal was a 10% increase each year. We’ve come very close. The challenge is to plan special event Sunday’s that bring folks back or welcome them for the first time…or convince those coming to invite a friend or family member. Ultimately all we can do is use the gifts God has given us. As worship leaders we have to do our best to shape worship and our preaching so it is compelling for many. It can be done…but success is not just about numbers in the pews. It is about level of committment of those coming. So, who do we measure that?

    • Jeff Clinger

      Momma, you have done a fantastic job at Trinity!

      The “how do we measure commitment” question is a huge one. The denomination seems most interested in the number of people present and the number of dollars they’re giving. Those are, of course, the easiest indicators of “growth” or “health” to track, but surely they’re not the best.

  4. Other commentators beat me (am I being competitive now? 🙂 to the punch.

    A small increase (2-5 families per year?) will be offset by attrition and retention issues. A small church suffers from it’s own inertia and ‘tradition.’ To really see a steady growth, you need 2-5 new families per month, because you’ll only retain 10-20 percent, in my opinion. But to attract that many new families per month, you have to rock the boat (in more ways the one), which is anathema to a small church.

    • Jeff Clinger

      Jon, even though it wasn’t the first, I appreciate your comment! 🙂

      My initial 2 families per year number was intended to be a reference of net gain, but even still I do think that attrition issues present a huge challenge.

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