Unpacking the Q1 2022 edition of the Unstuck Church Report
Every quarter, my team compiles all the data collected using our Vital Signs Assessment tool into a comprehensive Unstuck Church Report that monitors trends in churches in the United States and around the world. (Churches that engage the Unstuck consulting process and subscribers to the Unstuck Learning Hub get free access to the assessment tool).
Over the last 12 months, over 100 churches completed the assessment to help us get a picture of where there is health and where churches are getting stuck. This report is especially unique as it does not include any pre-pandemic data, meaning we were able to identify trends between growing and declining churches on this side of the pandemic specifically. For reference:
- The average in-person attendance of churches that participated was 513 people.
- These churches saw over 2,760 views every week through their online services or messages.
- Churches who participated ranged in size from under 100 to over 4,500 people.
NEW DATA ON GROWING VS. DECLINING CHURCHES
This quarter, our report includes a bonus section highlighting what the data is telling us about the differences between churches that are growing and declining on this side of the pandemic. In this episode, Amy and I will dive into that data specifically (you can get the full report here), including:
- Key distinctions between growing and declining churches
- The most common denomination of growing churches
- 3 characteristics of declining churches
Enter Our “One Million Downloads” Giveaway:
We’re celebrating One Million Downloads of The Unstuck Church Podcast! As a thank you to our listeners, you can enter to win a $100 Starbucks gift card and a free copy of The Unstuck Church on our Instagram page.Average in-person church attendance has declined by 30% over the last 12 months. This includes the total of all people, including children. [episode 234] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet The number of baptisms over the last 12 months increased by almost 75% relative to attendance. This suggests that more people are not only connecting to churches, but more people are also saying “yes” to Jesus. [episode 234] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet The majority of growing churches were non-denominational. Declining churches are 40% more likely to be connected to a denomination than growing churches. [episode 234] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Declining churches have significantly bigger staff teams than growing churches. Declining churches employ 56% more full-time equivalent employees than growing churches. [episode 234] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Data, data. However you say it, analyzing metrics is helpful. Understanding real numbers helps us become proactive in our planning, identify small problems before they become big and clearly communicate the reason behind needed change. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy dive into The Unstuck Church Report from the first quarter of 2022 and explore what we’re learning in the data on this side of the pandemic. Before we get to that, though, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do each week, you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode, including the leader conversation guide, bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well, this is a big day at The Unstuck Church Podcast, Tony. For one thing, this is the episode we do every few months where we talk about some of the fresh data trends we’re seeing with the churches that we’re serving. And today we’re gonna talk specifically about the differences we’re seeing between churches with growing attendance at this point in the pandemic and churches that are still declining in attendance. But secondly, and more importantly, we have something big to celebrate. Should we celebrate that before we get to the data trends?
I think we should. I mean, celebrations are always fun of course. Data is always fun for me, but the celebration probably should come first. And what we’re celebrating is the fact that our listener audience continues to grow. In fact, Sean, from our team, confirmed this morning now we have more than 6,000 downloads of this podcast every week. And you know, I think that’s pretty good, Amy, for the very, very niche topic that we hit. And because of that, with this episode, we are going to hit 1 million downloads over all. Isn’t that fantastic?
Yes, we should play some fanfare. That’s pretty cool.
So we’re celebrating that, but mainly I wanted to thank you, our listeners, you know, every week we try to provide practical thoughts and tools. We want to bring hope and encouragement in as little time as possible every week, by the way, because we know you’re busy, so we try to stay brief. We try to stay on topic, but we do. We want to thank you for listening. And to celebrate this milestone, we’re hosting a giveaway over on our Instagram page, where you can enter and win a free copy of my book, The Unstuck Church, and we’re going to be giving away a $100 Starbucks gift card too. So someone is going to be very caffeinated, Amy. So if you want to participate, just head on over to our page at The Unstuck Group on Instagram to enter. And I hope you all win. That’s that’s my hope. Everybody will be a winner.
That’s right. Well, with that, let’s jump into today’s topic. Tony, before we get to some of the specifics, tell us about how we collected the information that we’re about to share.
Yeah. So we’ve heard from you, and we know that you benefit from hearing what’s happening in other churches, because it helps you determine where your ministry’s healthy and where maybe you have some opportunities to take some next steps. And so every quarter we take a look at the data that has come through our Vital Signs Assessment. And by the way, about a year ago, we refreshed that assessment to make sure that we’re capturing good data, not only around physical gatherings, physical environments for churches, but also online environments as well and online engagement. So with that, this quarter, once again, we pulled together that data to help you understand what’s working and maybe what’s stuck in other churches right now. For this specific report, we are looking at data from over 100 churches. Some of them smaller churches, churches that are under a hundred in attendance, and one church in particular had over 4,500 people in attendance, which today that’s a pretty good sized church. And purposely we included the churches that took this assessment after March 2021.
And only those churches, right?
Only those churches. And the reason why we did that is we wanted to make sure we were comparing year-to-year trends after the pandemic started. In other words, the current trends that we’re going to highlight in today’s episode, it doesn’t include any data from pre-pandemic days. We want to get a good, clear picture of what’s happening today in churches.
Yeah. And unlike previous podcast episodes, where we go through the specific trends in the new Unstuck Church Report, today you have a little twist on that, right?
That’s right. I mean the new report, it includes benchmarks around attendance patterns, online engagement, volunteer engagement, giving, staffing trends, and many other categories. And so you’re going to want to download that report so that you get the freshest benchmarks and you can see what’s happening in other church churches. And, by the way, you can download the newest report and subscribe to future Unstuck Church Reports that come out each quarter at theunstuckgroup.com/trends. Today, though, I want to share more about the bonus section that we included in this quarter’s report. Even though the overall attendance at physical gatherings is down 30% year over year in the churches that were assessed, we learned that there are several churches that are starting to grow again on this side of the pandemic. In fact, of the 102 churches that were surveyed, 35 churches now are experiencing attendance growth when compared to the previous year. What’s telling though are some of the distinctions between churches that are growing and those that are still experiencing attendance decline, and Amy, some of the differences are gonna seem obvious between the growing and declining churches and some of them, honestly, they caught me a bit by surprise. And I’m guessing they might for you as well.
Well, why don’t we actually break it up into those two categories? And let’s start with the more obvious differences. What are some of those unique distinctions, Tony, between growing and declining churches?
Yeah, so you may have expected this, but the data confirms growing churches are baptizing a higher percentage of people than declining churches. So it’s not just that they’re baptizing more people, it’s a higher percentage of people that attend these churches are also getting baptized. So in other words, the growth isn’t happening because these churches are swapping Christians. A portion of the growth is coming from actual new faith conversions. And so that’s a positive sign.
And it’s an important one. Doing a health assessment here just a few weeks ago, looking at those baptism numbers are really telling. We just talked to a pastor today who said they lost 20% (right?) of their church through the pandemic, he goes, but I know what churches they went to. And while that’s fine, that’s not the growth that most pastors are looking for.
That’s right. That’s right.
Alright, well, what’s another trend you saw?
Again, probably obvious, but growing churches are reaching more younger families than declining churches. And we know this because when we look at the data, churches that are growing in attendance, it’s 28% of their overall attendance is either kids or students. That’s a pretty significant percentage. And in declining churches, only 22% of their attendance, kids and students. And so, you know, students, maybe they’re driving themselves to churches. Kids don’t have that option. It’s their parents that are driving them to church. And if these churches are reaching that percentage higher, that suggests they’re also reaching younger adults, younger parents. And so again, probably obvious, but it’s just a reminder for us. If we want to continue to experience growth, we really need to be intentional about reaching those younger parents, those younger adults, and their kids and students. Another trend—growing churches have smaller boards and fewer committees than declining churches. And Amy, I mean, we’ve seen this trend in the past and now it sounds obvious, but it might be a little counterintuitive for those that are listening. But what we find is that churches that streamline their governance also streamline decision making because of that. And that makes it easier for these churches to make changes in ministry strategy when that’s necessary because of the changes that are happening in the world around us. And so, I mean, we just saw a story. One of the churches that we were working with, they had 106 board members.
Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.
That’s larger than our Senate that is trying to run our entire country. And some might argue about the efficiency of that body. But yeah, when you get too many people on your board or too many committees, it becomes challenging to make decisions. And then last thing related to governance, the majority of growing churches were non-denominational churches. In fact, declining churches are 40% more likely to be connected to a denomination than the growing churches right now. So my suspicion is a lot of that dynamic is around churches having a little bit more of freedom than those churches that are connected to a denomination. But I will say we’ve worked with several growing churches that are part of mainline denominations, but it’s almost as if they’ve tried to, within the constraints, within the framework of their denomination, it’s almost like they have a non-denominational church mindset. So they’re looking for those places where they have some flexibility to act like a non-denominational church.
And would it be fair to say we work with a lot of mainline churches that are very large compared to other churches in their denomination.
That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. And because of that, I think part of the reason why they’ve experienced some growth, unlike other peer churches in their denominations, is they’re leaning into some of these principles we’re talking about, Amy.
That’s right. All right. Well, if those were the more obvious distinctions…were you done? Is that it?
And again, some of those were more obvious than others, but yeah. This next list, I don’t think they’re so obvious.
All right. Well, what are some of the less intuitive characteristics of churches that are growing in attendance compared to those that are in decline?
Yeah, and again, this is fresh data. So this is current churches that are growing and current churches that are declining. So here’s one that may be less obvious to you. Declining churches are more likely to offer multiple styles of worship services on Sunday morning or at other times during the week. So here, think about combinations of traditional worship, contemporary worship, blended worship, modern worship and so on. In other words, the more worship styles a church offers, the more likely the church is experiencing a decline in attendance. That doesn’t sound intuitive, does it? What would you have expected, Amy?
Well, I see this stuff a lot, so I probably would’ve expected this based on my experience, but I think a lot of us think the more options we give people, the more option we have to actually grow. But obviously the data is telling this differently.
It’s actually the reverse, that’s right. Yeah. So the churches that only have one worship style and then, by the way, offer that service multiple times, either on Sunday or other times during the week, those churches are experiencing, more often times, those churches are experiencing growth. Here’s another key distinction. And this one just blows my mind. You might need to be sitting down for this one. Here we go. All right. Declining churches have significantly bigger staff teams than growing churches. And not by just a little bit. I’m gonna take my time getting through this, just so I explain it correctly. This is based on the ratio of staff to attendance. It’s not the number of staff people. It’s the ratio between staff and attendance. This is, it’s just mind-boggling. Declining churches employ 56% more full-time staff equivalents than growing churches do. So let me just put this into nuts and bolts here. Here we go. Let me give you this example. Let’s say we have two churches and both of them are averaging 2000 people in attendance today, but one of those churches is growing and the other church is declining. This is what we’re seeing in the data. The growing church of 2000 people has 43 full-time equivalent staff people on average. The declining church of 2000 people has 67 full-time equivalent staff people on average. So same size church, one is growing, one is declining. The church and decline has 24 more paid staff members. How do you explain that, Amy?
Wow. Well, again, based on my I experience, my guess would be that that declining church and all those additional staff members means they are one of two things. They’re hiring a lot of people to do ministry. And therefore the people in the church aren’t doing the ministry. Therefore there’s kind of that consumer, we give the money, you do the ministry. And/or they have way too much ministry going on, and they haven’t pruned anything for a long time, and so all their efforts are being spread way too broad.
I think you’re spot on. Let me add a third element. And this was fascinating. Again, declining churches had 56% more staff people than growing churches. But when I looked at the actual amount of money that churches are investing, it’s the same percentage of overall budget in the growing churches and declining churches. And so what that tells me then is that the growing churches have fewer staff people, but they’re compensating them more. And my suspicion is one of the reasons why they’re compensating them more is they’re just higher capacity leaders. In other words, they know how to find and raise up other leaders, primarily lay leaders, and they know how to build teams to get ministry done. And because of that, it’s a different type of staff person that growing churches are employing compared to the declining churches. So again, as we talk it out, it seems more intuitive. But my suspicion is, if you would’ve said you know, growing churches actually are employing more staff people, that’s one of the reasons why they’re growing. And actually the data would say the exact opposite. Here’s the last one. And again, I think we just assume growing churches are spending more money than declining churches, but the data shows that growing churches have less debt than declining churches do.
So it appears that growing churches are more efficient in how they’re investing kingdom resources to reach new people. Now, I’m not saying that growing churches don’t have any debt. I mean, there’s some debt that they they’ve recognized, whether it’s launching a new campus or launching a new initiative in the church or in the community, or maybe it’s expanding a campus. There’s still some debt involved there, but it’s not at the same level that declining churches are engaging in those types of endeavors. So again, I think just fascinating to see that growing churches are just, they’re more efficient with how they’re investing kingdom resources.
Well, I hope this has been helpful for our listeners today. I think we are all eager to start comparing current results with a year ago and not going back to 2019 anymore. So thanks for all your work, Tony, in pulling that together. Do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah, really just a couple of reminders today. So first, I know some of you will be interested in seeing that full report with all of the benchmarks. And again, it’s a free resource. It comes out every quarter. Right now we have over 8,500 people subscribed to this. So if you want to get this current report and subscribe to future editions, you can do that at theunstuckgroup.com/trends. And then also, again, it’s the 1 million download celebration, and so I just wanna remind you to join us in this. You can head over to @theunstuckgroup on our Instagram page and enter to win a free copy of my book and possibly that hundred dollars of caffeine from Starbucks. You all want that. So, thanks again for joining us today. I hope this was helpful for you, and thanks for celebrating with us on 1 million downloads.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. We are looking forward to the next million downloads, and we need your help in getting the word out. You can tell others about the podcast by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and just telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.