Questions Worth Asking (2016 Megachurch & Statistics Report)

By Kent E. Fillinger

Leading a church is a complex undertaking. The challenges can seem to mount more quickly than answers or resources become available. However, asking good questions is helpful. And asking the right questions as a leader is a game changer.

One question I always ask is, “What can we learn from our annual survey data to apply to life and ministry?” Here are some important findings from key survey questions, and I’ve included some application questions for you and your team to discuss.

One of this year’s survey questions was, “What questions or issues is your church currently asking?”

More than 20 categories of questions and issues emerged from the responses. Here are the 10 most-asked questions from leaders of megachurches (average weekly worship attendance of 2,000-plus) and emerging megachurches (1,000 to 1,999 in weekly attendance).

1. Where is our next location? 

The multisite movement continues! These churches continue to ask questions related to starting and growing new campuses. How do we move from a multisite model to a regional movement model? How do we give great customer service to a large network of churches? How do we organize ourselves into campuses? How do we find a permanent location for one of our campuses?

Almost two-thirds of megachurches use a multisite model compared with 31 percent of emerging megachurches. These 58 multisite churches operated 167 different campuses last year. Eleven more megachurches and emerging megachurches plan to start a multisite within the next year.

The attendance and growth rates continue to be higher for multisite churches compared with single-site churches. However, single-site megachurches had better baptism ratios the last two years than multisite megachurches. Even with the addition of more campuses, the five-year average shows that 75 percent of all attendees of these multisite churches still attend the original campus.

2. What is our vision? 

Strategic plans and long-range planning are a key emphasis for many churches. Several of these churches have worked with or are working with outside consultants to help them with their vision, mission, core values, and strategies.

3. What is the role of staff?

When 48 percent of your total budget is invested in staffing costs, it makes sense to ensure you have the right people in the right seats on the bus. Although staffing costs remained the same as in 2015, 20 percent of megachurches and 25 percent of emerging megachurches reduced the size of their staffs last year.

4. How do we start growing or keep growing? 

Growth questions were common, whether it was how to grow beyond a certain size or how to keep pace with and make room for continued growth.

5. How do we make better disciples? 

Improving the on-ramps and clarifying the pathways for discipleship continues to capture the attention of many churches. One church asked, “What is a disciple who changes the world, and how can we help make that type of disciple?” Our March issue featured an article about Discipleship.org, a new discipleship resource you might want to explore.

6. What does leadership development look like? 

Most churches today need to create a clear process for leadership development to increase the leadership pipeline.

7. How can we best reach and serve our community? 

Churches want to know how to increase their local impact and grow their outward focus to serve their communities better.

8. How can we make room for more? 

Churches are asking the following building-related questions as they continue to grow: Should we build? What should we build? When is the right time to build?

9. How can we better engage and involve our members? 

Church leaders used words like move, motivate, engage, and involve with hopes of seeing more people invest, commit, and contribute beyond just showing up for a worship service.

10. How do we fund the vision? 

Capital campaigns and debt reduction were the most common themes here. Two churches are struggling with the question of how to fund the vision when their people are struggling financially.

A few honorable mention questions included: What are our next steps with succession planning? How do we respond to a changing culture that’s increasingly post-Christian? And how do we show love to those in the LGBT community while embracing God’s truth?

What’s Change Worth?

The bold white letters on the dark Porsche magazine ad caught my eye. The message shouted, “Either you drive disruption or you’re outpaced by it.”

In addition to capturing consistent, historical data each year, I try to ask a few questions that look past the numbers to get a better glimpse into what’s happening in the lives of our churches. One such question this year had to do with the perception of change. I asked, “Do you feel as if your church is changing as fast as the world around us?”

I wasn’t too surprised to find that megachurches were the most likely to say “yes”—63 percent. By comparison, only 33 percent of medium-sized churches (average weekly attendance of 250 to 499) felt they were keeping pace with our changing world. Just over half of the emerging megachurches said “yes.”

When I cross-checked the responses with the growth rates for each church, the answers became more telling. The megachurches who felt they were changing fast enough grew an average of 3.9 percent last year. This growth rate was three times better than for megachurches who felt they weren’t keeping up with the pace of change.

Emerging megachurches whose leaders felt their churches were keeping pace with the changing world grew an average of 4.6 percent, while those who thought their churches weren’t keeping pace with change declined by almost 1 percent last year.

John Maxwell said, “You can change without growing. But you can’t grow without changing.” This statistical snapshot seems to confirm the necessity of both a mind-set for change and for making changes to realize growth.

Application Questions: How can you infuse a culture of change in your church? What changes are you afraid to make as a leader, staff, elders, or a church that could have a positive impact on growth?

Better with Age?

America recently elected its oldest president, and there is still no verdict on the results. But for churches led by guys 60 and older, the verdict is in, and it’s not pretty! Here is the hard to hear—but true—news.

One in four megachurches had a senior leader 60 or older. The same is true for one in five emerging megachurches. The average growth rate for those megachurches was less than 1 percent. Moreover, the average emerging megachurch with a seasoned leader declined by more than 2 percent last year.

Unfortunately, this slow or declining growth wasn’t a one-year blip! The average growth rate for megachurches with a leader over the age of 60 during the last three years is only 0.5 percent. By comparison, megachurches led by ministers in the 40- to 44-year-old bracket grew an average of 6.8 percent during the same three-year period.

The same story was true for emerging megachurches. The three-year average growth rate for those churches with a leader 60 or older was 1.7 percent, while the growth rate was 7.4 percent for emerging megachurches led by guys in the 40 to 44 age category.

The one bright spot is that megachurches with ministers over the age of 60 had the second best baptism ratio last year at 8.1 baptisms per 100 in attendance. This was bested only by megachurches with lead ministers in the 40–44 age range with a baptism ratio of 8.9.

Application Questions: How should the lead pastor’s role and the leadership structure of the church change as the lead pastor ages and his tenure increases? What should you do now to better prepare for an eventual leadership succession?

How Externally Focused Is Your Church?

Another new question was, “How would you assess the current focus of your church and its ministries?” Respondees were asked to use a scale of 0 to 100 with “0” being “completely focused internally” and “100” being “completely focused externally.”

Megachurches registered the highest average score at 65. Emerging megachurches were second at 58.

I wondered, What impact does this score have on a church’s growth rate and baptism ratio? I studied the data and found churches that saw themselves as more externally focused grew less, but baptized more. Megachurches that were more externally focused grew 2.8 percent last year compared with 4.2 percent for the less externally focused. The finding held true for emerging megachurches as well. However, megachurches and emerging megachurches that were more externally focused had better baptism ratios than other churches in their groupings.

Application Questions: What shifts can you make in your church focus and ministry priorities to be more externally focused? How can your church engage more with your local community to meet needs in love?

Kent Fillinger is the president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnership with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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