America’s Fifty Most Influential Churches

Orginally published on Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 8:42 AM
by Todd Rhoades

The Church Report Magazine is out with their annual list of the 50 most influential churches in America. This was compiled from about 2000 surveys that were returned to the magazine. It is an interesting list (as usual). This year's most influential church is...

Willow Creek Community Church.  #2 is Saddleback.  Rounding out the top ten are:  Northpoint (Andy Stanley); Fellowship Church (Ed Young); Lakewood Church (Joel Osteen); Southeast Christian (Bob Russell; Dave Stone); Life Church (Craig Groeschel); Potter’s House (T. D. Jakes); Brooklyn Tabernacle (Jim Cymbala); and North Coast Church (Larry Osborne).

It’s interesting to me that six of the top ten churches on this list are leaders in the multi-site movement.

You can find the whole ‘top 50’ list here at The Church Report...

What is your response to the list.  (I know that popularity contests aren’t great for churches), but what do you think?  What church(es) influence your local body?  Who would you add, or subtract, or move up or down on the list?

Just for fun…


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 TRACKBACKS: (1) There are 28 Comments:

  • Posted by

    What is interesting to me is that I recognize these men, but couldn’t tell you the name of most of their churches… So are the churches really influential, or is it the recognition of the lead pastor that makes them top this kind of a list?

    Obviously, in some cases they are connected (what was a mega-church called before Hybels started WC?) in some weird way, but I wondcer if you polled various churches lke the IFCA or the GARBC if you’ld find these guys listed as heretics and a completely different list of “influencers...”

    18 out of 50 are non-affiliated with denominations… in some ways I think that is too bad.  We tend to look at ourselves as growing big enough to not need the denoms anymore… I wish we would see ourselves as growing big enough to support and assist the denoms in way that help the little guys out there.  But - rant- there are no book sales contracts in that approach....

    Just my thoughts.  I was a tan amazing student conference last week and it is good to be back in touch with these issues too.

  • Posted by kent

    Hmmm, we missed it by that much!

  • Posted by

    I’m glad to see the Cinci Vineyard made it on there.  Those guys are incredible.  Willow and Saddleback were token, although by no means was that meant to minimize.  Very interesting to see the Church of the Resurrection in KS...they are only recently developing “contemporary” services.  Not that that is a mark of “influence,” it’s just that, while most megachurches downplay their link to their respective denoms, Resurrection makes sure you can see the “United Methodist” part of their sign be seen from miles away.

  • Posted by Andy McAdams


    FYI, John MacArthur is a member in good standing in the IFCA, or at least was last I heard.  Actually if you look at that entire list, I am sure most of us would come up with at least one or two we thought were heretics.

  • Posted by Matt

    It’s possible that I missed this part of the article, but I’m wondering what qualifies a church as influential.  What are they influencing?  Are these churches whose local community is better off because of them?  Or are they churches who influence other churches?  I’m just curious.

    What does influential mean to you?

  • Posted by Jeff

    Hey, there’s a woman on the list!  How about that?

    All in all, though, I didn’t find much surprising or groundbreaking about this list.  I wonder what the criteria are for ‘most influential.’ Someone noted the fame of most of the pastors.  Is a church influential because other churches aspire to be like them, or influential because they’re effectively ministering to their communities, or influential because they’re big, etc.?

  • Posted by chris

    It’s not just because they’re big. The churches listed from the Dallas area aren’t even the biggest churches in Dallas.

    I think “influence” probably takes into account the popularity and recognizability of the leader. The guys with radio programs and TV broadcasts who are a part of churches that are doing big things in their community were the ones that got the nod.

    Chuck Swindoll is a famous face, but his church isn’t that “influential. They didn’t make the list. On the other hand, Prestonwood is huge, Jack Graham is a fairly big name, but Prestonwood isn’t influencing much beyond their walls - at least we don’t hear about it in Dallas.

    It’s an interesting list, and definitely worth googling the churches listed to see what they’re doing “influential.”

  • Posted by

    Well a couple of them I recognized because of reading about them in books, Irresistible Influence, Culture Shift, others I recognized because of radio and TV programs. One Church I was surprised didn’t make it, I guess because the Pastor doesn’t write books or isn’t on TV or radio, but the church and Pastor are known around the world for sending missionaries and training Pastors, and even helping young Pastors starting out through a Timothy-Barnabas conference. That is FBC Woodstock with Dr. Johnny Hunt. Of course they do church the way it has been done, getting people to share their faith one on one, no fancy bells or whistles, just changed lives helping to change other lives.

  • Posted by

    I do believe the church is to influence society.  Some by their size and the personality of their pastor will definitely get more attention by the world press.  Again, if the Lord gives much to a church and pastor, He will hold them accountable for their service.

    I don’t know the criteria for being “influential” but I hope it does not hinge on “one man” but that seems to be reality in the American church.  To me an influential church is bigger than the pastor.  The vision given the founding pastor should outlive him and continue through several generations in a community. 

    Willow Creek is now on its second pastor.  Joel Osteen is the recipient of his father’s hard work who laid out the foundation upon which Joel has been blessed [I’m not discounting his talent or call]. 

    From reading this article I sense it should be retitled the 50 most influential pastors rather than churches.  There is a big difference between the two I suspect.

  • Posted by

    I enjoy this list each year along with others Dr. Vaughn does and am at least somewhat familiar to very familiar with 44 of the 50.  However, from my first look, there are not three United Methodist Churches on this list.  There are five: #11 Church of the Resurrection, #14 Granger Community Church, #25 Frazier Memorial, #38 Ginghamsburg and #49 Windsor Village.  That changes the non-denom # and I wonder how many other errors may be present.  It’s still a great list.

  • Posted by Len

    It’s Frazer, no “i”. grin Common occurance, I was saved there and grew up in that church and it ruined me for life.  I thought it was normal church and a normal UMC and it’s not but it’s all I ever knew.  I knew John Ed first as my baseball coach when I was 12 with his son before I knew him as my pastor.  They are influential in their community, primarily.

  • Posted by

    I’ve visited one of these churches in my area and found the service for several thousand people a bit impersonal.  They put on quite the show, but it seemed a bit staged to me.  And talking to people afterward I didn’t find anyone who was particularly involved in the church, they all just seemed like attendees, and I didn’t find anyone who seemed interested in connecting with me, the visitor.  I guess I’m not the mega-church type.

    So where’s the list of the most influential churches under 1,000 members?

  • Posted by

    I continue to wrestle with a comment from George Barna...He says that in every county in America church attendance continues to go down.  EVERY county.  That means that even in counties with growing mega-churches the segment of the population that is growing best and most consistenly is the unchurched.  I think we focus on these seemingly successful churches to avoid the truth ~ the church in North America is losing the battle.  The mega-churches may do institutional church better than smaller churches, but they are still an institution that most in our culture don’t want or think they need.  The “most-influencial” churches in my area are populated by persons who were Christian when they walked in the door and will be Christian when they walk out.  Do lists like this enable our denial?  Do they tempt us to take our eye off the ball of disciple making and life transformation through Christ?  Do they keep us from measuring the right things?  I don’t know, but it is possible…

    In Christ,


  • Posted by Andy McAdams


    I completely agree.  I think that though mega-churches may be a good thing in many ways, they also give us a false impression that the church at large in America is in good condition.  The reality is, (in my opinion) the church is in trouble.  My concern as someone that works with churches across the U.S. is not the mega-churches (less then 5% of churches in America) but the thousands and thousands of churches between them that struggle and their pastors that are ready to give up.

    Sometime ago, MMI published something I put together about the church’s condition.  Perhaps a fresh look may help us to gain anew what’s happening.


  • Posted by

    I have long felt that the attitude among North American Christians toward the lost and broken people among us is somewhere between aversion and apathy.  We’re willing (though perhaps not enthusiasticly) to send $$ and missionary teams across the globe, hear stories about all the need “over there.”

    Aversion sounds something like “those terrible sinning gay/lesbian, abortionist, drug addicts (etc) . . . are headed straight for hell and dragging America with them . . . God is punishing us . . . we’ve got to fight . . . protect our children . . . etc, etc, etc.”

    Apathy looks something like “church every Sunday, good programs for our kids, enough activity to fill up our schedule, potlucks with others just like us, it’s generally about ‘us’, no time for messy people”. 

    A great book by John Kotter called “Leading Change” identifies nine sources of complacency.  They include: absence of a visible crisis, low overall performance standards (wrong measures), a “kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news” culture, human tendency for denial, and too much “happy-talk” from management.

    I think that Andy and Michael are on to something with their comments about what lists like this might do to the rest of the church in North America.  Could this kind of press perpetuate attitudes of complacency that actually reduces our overall influence? 

    “See, THE CHURCH is influencing society,” (happy talk, absence of a visible crisis, denial), or

    “you have to be big (mega), write books and gain the attention of the media in order to have influence, and since I’m not I’ll just plan another potluck.”

    That said, based on what I’ve read and heard from some of the guys on this list, I think they are really committed to stewarding their influence in a God honoring and kingdom building ways.  I believe that for many, their greatest desire is to influence the pastor of the small and medium sized church to lead in transformational ways in their own piece of North American geography, even if they’ll never make this list.


  • Posted by

    Just as a sidenote, isn’t the church “doomed to fail” in the end?  I mean, if you consider percentage of attenders as the only measure for whether the church in America is fairing well or failing, then we’re looking at the wrong thing.  What’s that old adage?  “Hell will be standing room only” There will ALWAYS be more people not attending churches than attending.  And, I believe, the closer we get to “The End”, the more disparity you will see between those numbers. 

    We should do everything in our power to share the gospel with as many as possible, whether through megachurches or 50 member potluck congregation.  That’s the task we have been given.  Whether people choose to accept it and join the church is not our goal, or our job.  It’s God’s. 

    If there was a way to measure it, I think the best question to ask would be, who is reaching out?  Not necessarily who has the most on the books, but who is outside of their church building most trying to reach others?  Who is trying to change lives?  Not necessarily counting the lives changed, but the attempt. 

    Are the most 50 influential churches the ones that are reaching out?  Maybe that’s what makes them so influential.

  • Posted by Andy McAdams


    I don’t believe that scripture teaches that the church is doomed to fail.  It speaks of a “falling away” and throughout the history of the church there have always been churches and denominations that have become apostate.  Which each case of believers “turning from the truth” God has always raised up a remnant.  I believe this will continue and God’s power will be available for those churches (Ephesians 3:20) that remain faithful and focus on His word and principles of discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20).  As I see it, this will remain until the Rapture.

  • Posted by

    Actually, I don’t think the church is “doomed to fail” in the end.  In my opinion that runs contrary to the teaching of Jesus and the trajectory of the entire NT.  The gates of hell do not prevail against the ever expanding Kingdom of God.  The idea that the disparity between believers and non-believers will increase in the end (not to get us sidetracked) comes from a premillenial dispensationalist view of end times.
    While I disagree on that point, I do agree with your overall assessment of what we should be about as followers of Jesus in the world.  Maybe we should just stop counting and worry more about how we are living as faithful folowers of Jesus, making disciples as we go..

    In Christ,


  • Posted by

    I must apologize, I believe my sarcasm was lost in translation.  I don’t believe the church is “doomed to fail”, but to WIN with power.  However, comments from others that talk about the North American church losing the battle just makes me wonder which battle we should/are fighting.  Are we looking at the correct battle when we count people in the church? When our mission is simply to share the message & continue to share with as many as possible?  Whether they accept it or not, is out of our hands.

    Note to self: Sarcasm doesn’t work well on message boards. smile

  • Posted by

    Shadowette –

    Glad to know your comments included sarcasm, which surely is difficult to hear in cyberspace.

    You said: [However, comments from others that talk about the North American church losing the battle just makes me wonder which battle we should/are fighting.  Are we looking at the correct battle when we count people in the church? When our mission is simply to share the message & continue to share with as many as possible?  Whether they accept it or not, is out of our hands.]

    I certainly agree that the correct (better – only) measures or evaluators for how well we are doing in battle is # of people in our pews.  However, I disagree with you that our mission is simply to share the message with as many as possible.  Jesus’ command was to “go and make disciples” not “go and tell people – leave everything else to me.” For me this means that we must pay attention to, evaluate, measure how well we are doing at disciple making.  People get all squeamish about such things, claiming that it is either impossible or “unspiritual” to measure and evaluate such heart issues.  I say, to do less is poor stewardship, and leaves us with little else to measure than people in the pews.

    Michael - Although the article doesn’t state, I have a hunch that there is some criteria used to determine “influence” other than size of church, or else the list would have simply been the top 50 churches in America.  In my opinion, we steward our influence by tracking, measuring and evaluating the RIGHT things . . . so I don’t think we should “just stop counting” as you suggest but rather make sure we are counting the right things.


  • Posted by


    Point taken.  I admit, I was narrowminded in my response.  But, please hear my heart on this issue.  Is the “# of people in our pews” truly the only way to measure?  Or are there other ways?  Do we fall back on #s because it is the easiest way to count instead of the best way?  I believe there is.  I’m still working on exactly what it is, but I do believe there is a better way.  For instance, what about counting the number of community outreach programs a church has, or how well the church members work in the programs. 

    Of course, my biggest issues with numbers probably comes from a bit of disgust on my part.  A church, which shall remain nameless, that I attended approximately 3 times, placed me on their rolls & now counts me as a member.  No one ever calls, or visits, but they do remember to send me my tithing envelopes every month.  I know I could be removed and recently have been, but it’s frustrating to know that they will look like an enormous, influential church, when no one is really actually there.  I just want to believe there is a better way of measuring that will weed out churches of this kind, and come up with truly growing & truly influential churches.

  • Posted by


    Sorry I missed the sarcasm, too...I normally consider myself an expert in the art form. 

    ~~ Wendi, I’m with you as well, sometimes I give way to extremes...I am currently preaching a series on the church.  On the first Sunday I suggested that we stop measuring our sucess by how many show up, pay up and participate in programs.  I suggested we start measuring our effectiveness with four questions...For individuals I suggested we ask 1.) How am I seeking, listening to, and obeying Jesus?  2.) How am I making disciples?  3.) How am I using the gifts and resources entrusted to me by God to meet the needs of others.  and 4.) How am I being a witness by ministering to others in Jesus name? ~~ For our congregation I suggested we ask 1.) Are people learning to obey Jesus in our faith community?  2.) How many collective conversations are we having with people who are not yet followers of Jesus?  3.) How many ministry initiatives are we engaged in on the street?  4.) How are we seeking God, listening to God’s voice and walking in obedience?  There may be better questions, but what I was trying to get at is moving us away from institutional measures and towards the outcomes Jesus calls us too, making disciples who love God and love others in tangible ways.  We are continuing to build on this idea, but I am convicted that we need to move away from scorecards that measure “nickels and noses.” I would love to know how the list defined influence! 

    Peace in Christ, mdd

  • Posted by

    Excellent discussion.  One of the oddities in discussing church size/growth are the those who “wish” to discount the use of numbers.  How well Shadowette’s people do with current challenges involves numbers.  All of the activities are likely to impact attendance.  I have yet to find in my Bible reading that numbers are not important...esp. since these numbers are usually people.  A major reason churches led by the likes of Hybels, Warren, Russell et. al. grow as they do is that as long as there is even one more soul to be won to Christ, they believe it’s their (our) obligation to make the effort. And they do make the effort.  Just how far are we as individuals willing to go for this.  Read the criticism of these leaders on line and elsewhere.  It’s amazing to read about the “christians” (Small c used on purpose) who use the internet to spew venom in their direction (uhh. not in this forum btw), I mean real nonbiblical venom.  Gosh.  We get ill feelings if someone just threatens to withhold their tithe if we don’t run a program their way.  These folks, indeed all of us have neighbors, friends, family to win – yet the majority of churches in North America did not win any souls in the last year.  Another quick point...not feeling welcome when visiting a church can happen in any size church.  However, most growing churches work hard to make sure their guests are cared for.  The majority of non-attendees I know really aren’t searching for a friendly church, anyway.  They aren’t looking for any church.  But that’s a different discussion.

  • Posted by

    Shadowette – Actually, I think you and I pretty much agree.  There are many things we should and must count besides numbers.  One year we decided to measure annual conversion growth based on what we called “prayed and stayed,” meaning people made a decision for Christ AND had made at least initial attempts to integrate into the community AND we knew where they were @ the end of the year.  Using that measure we discovered that we had a pitiful .07% conversion growth.  Not much influence huh??!!  Sadly the experience you had at the nameless church is probably not all that uncommon.  It is a lot of work to keep data accurate and use data to serve people, but it’s the only way to have the information necessary to measure the kind of things we’re talking about here.

    Michael – I love both your question #3’s.  Besides just posing those questions, how did you frame them in a way that enabled your church and congregation to evaluate effectiveness and outcomes and influence (see Todd . . . I’m trying to keep the post about influence not measurement and evaluation).  In other words, did you actually track something and report it to the congregation?

    I’d be curious to find out what these churches track and evaluate in regard to ministry effectiveness. 


  • Posted by michael

    Thanks for the good question...actually our leadership team is in the process of discerning how to do that at the moment.  I first presented the questions in a sermon two weeks ago...now we are wrestling with them at the leadership level. 

    At the simplest level, I framed these questions in the context of following Jesus.  I believe that living as a follower of Jesus requires a very simple pattern of living.  Seek Jesus in all that you do, listen to His voice, do what He says.  The clearest things Jesus told us to do is love God, love others, make disciples and be His witnesses.  So if I want to follow Jesus, I must know what he wants me to do.  Once I know that is what I should do.  It is clear that making disciples is at the top of the list.

    As a congregation, I believe our common life should support our discple making...literally, the church should be a place where people are equipped to make disciples.  In that way, we are empowering discpleship and disciple making.  That is where the church questions come from.  I would love it people from our church said, “At MMC I learned how to actually reach out and help someone!” I am fearful that they really say, “At MMC I learned how to run an efficient meeting and the finer points of Robert’s Rules of Order!”

    I don’t know if that helps at all.  All I can really say is that the questions were the first step in trying to get people to look at church in a new way.  The next steps are a journey of fleshing that out in our lives and our common life as a church. 

    It was so new to me, that I didn’t even have the foresight to write them down for people.  They were scribbling like made on their church bulletins.  Since them I have posted them on my blog site and we are preparing a tool for individuals and leaders that is simple and keeps the questions in front of people and ministry teams.

    Peace in Christ,


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