One of the largely unspoken phenomenon of the past decade has been the decline in large churches located at only one site. Most of the large church growth today is taking place at multisite churches.
For clarity, I define a large church as a congregation with an average weekly worship attendance of 1,000 or more. In this article, I focus on just those churches located at one site. Larger churches with multiple sites have largely avoided this issue. They are growing more through multiple sites than larger services.
So why are we hearing more about the decline of these churches? Allow me to offer five reasons.
1. “Cultural Christians” are numerically declining. A cultural Christian is not really a Christian at all. These men and women attended church services in the past because it was the culturally acceptable thing to do. They were drawn to the services that were large in number because they thought they could escape further involvement. They, in essence, hid in the crowd. Cultural Christianity is disappearing rapidly in America. The decline in their numbers has largely impacted the churches with larger gatherings.
2. The majority of Millennials prefer smaller worship gatherings. They are thus less likely to attend a church with a single-service attendance of 1,000 or more.
3. The growth of church planting and church campuses. Simply stated, most of the numerical growth is migrating toward these new and smaller sites.
4. Assimilation is often a greater challenge in the larger gathering. If someone stops attending a large worship gathering, it is likely he or she will not be missed. If the person is not missed, there is no follow up and he or she drops out.
5. The perceived quality of worship services is no longer limited to larger churches. From 1980 to 2010, many church attendees shifted to larger worship services where they could experience a higher quality of worship. Today, many of the smaller churches are able to have similar quality.
Many multisite church leaders are reporting declines in their larger “home base church” services, but those numbers are masked by growth at other campuses. In many ways the multisite movement has been a great blessing in keeping larger churches on a growth trajectory.
Many of the large single site churches, however, obviously do not have other campuses to offset declines in their single site services. It is a largely unreported phenomenon. But it is a challenging reality in many churches.
Let me hear from you.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on April 27, 2016. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and nine grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.