NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With two-thirds of all Protestant churches having expanded their ministry space or outlets in the past five years, a new study by LifeWay Research shows:
- Two of these types of expansion corresponding to higher levels of growth in church attendance: adding a worship service and building new space on site.
- Five other types tested reflecting no significant relationship with growth.
Pastors, meanwhile, estimate that only 1 in 3 newcomers to their churches are actually newcomers to church in general, according to the research conducted for Cornerstone Knowledge Network, a network of firms founded by Cogun Inc. and the Aspen Group focused on developing building and leadership solutions for churches. LifeWay Research is a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The study, “Effects of Ministry Space and Outlet Expansion,” was conducted Feb. 16-23, 2009, through a telephone survey of 1,000 pastors of randomly selected Protestant churches. The sample size of 1,000 pastors, according to LifeWay Research, provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percent.
“We wanted to explore the various ways churches are expanding their ministry space as well as measure growth rate and type, costs and staffing,” said Jim Couchenour, director of marketing and ministry services at Cogun Inc. “We can now clarify the expansion options and how they might fit into a particular church’s DNA and vision for more effective ministry.”
Seven types of expansion were included in the survey:
- Building new or additional ministry space at the same site of an existing church.
- Building a new facility at a new site.
- Adding an additional worship service or venue on site.
- Adding an additional worship service or venue off site.
- Beginning to offer streaming video of worship services or teaching on the Internet.
- Directly participating in helping start a new church or churches.
- Merging with another church.
Of these seven types of ministry expansion, the pastors surveyed indicated that adding an additional worship service or venue on site is most closely related to higher growth in attendance, followed by building new or additional ministry space at the same site where the church is located. Churches that expanded in those two ways experienced significantly higher levels of growth in average worship attendance over a five-year period, according to the pastors surveyed.
The pastors were asked whether each of these types of expansion leads to growth. More than two-thirds agreed (strongly or somewhat) that five of the types of expansion lead to growth. Forty-two (42) percent agreed that merging with another church leads to growth beyond the attendance of the two merged churches, while 39 percent agreed that offering online streaming video leads to additional in-person attendees. One in 4 pastors strongly agreed that building additional space leads to growth, while 15 percent strongly agreed that relocating to a new or different facility leads to growth.
Pastors in churches that have implemented a particular type of expansion were more likely to strongly agree that it leads to growth.
No expansion, less growth
Overall, 44 percent of Protestant pastors estimated that their worship attendance has grown by at least 10 percent during the previous five years, 23 percent said their attendance has declined at least 10 percent and 33 percent reported stable attendance.
Among pastors of churches that have not engaged in ministry expansion during the last five years, a far smaller percentage (34 percent) reported growth in attendance; 37 percent reported stable average worship attendance; and 29 percent reported declining attendance.
“Many churches who do not take steps to expand are struggling,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. “Pastors of churches who take the same message to more people through new methods and new media are expressing the positive impact of these steps of faith.”
On average, the Protestant pastors estimated that 49 percent of their new attendees during the last five years had transferred from other congregations, while 32 percent were unchurched and 19 percent were children born to adults attending the church.
Among pastors of churches that have expanded their ministry, the estimate of new attendees who were previously unchurched does not vary significantly by type of expansion. According to the pastor survey data, the percentage of unchurched ranged from a low of 31 percent among churches that built a new facility at a new site to a high of 36 percent among churches that began streaming video of worship services and those that merged with another church.
Sixty-five percent of Protestant churches have expanded their ministries within the last five years in at least one of the seven ways surveyed. The specific types of expansion involved:
- 28 percent adding an additional worship service or venue on site.
- 28 percent directly participating in helping start a new church or churches.
- 27 percent building new or additional ministry space at the same site.
- 14 percent beginning to offer streaming video of worship services or teaching on the Internet.
- 10 percent adding an additional worship service or venue off site.
- 4 percent building a new facility at a new site.
- 3 percent merging with another church.
Among the study’s other findings:
Churches that have expanded their ministries in any of these ways hired an average of 0.6 full-time and 1.1 part-time employees related to this expansion.
The relative cost of each type of expansion varies widely, with the most expensive option being a new facility at a new site, followed by additional ministry space on site. The least expensive expansion option is adding virtual space such as utilizing the Internet for worship services and/or teaching.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.)