Monday Morning Insights

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    Top 100 Church Lists:  What’s up?

    Top 100 Church Lists:  What’s up?


    My friend Kent Shaffer hits a great point over at the Church Relevance blog:  What is most interesting about these lists is no longer the data itself but rather how many churches are choosing to no longer take part in these studies.

    Kent continues:  "From a research perspective, this nonparticipation is sad. But theologically speaking, the reasons many churches choose to not broadcast their numbers are quite noble. Many nonparticipating churches just don’t want to negatively affect other churches. And, of course others, just forget to report their numbers to the researchers."

    I agree.  I think there's one other possible reason that some churches aren't reporting their numbers this year.  I think... just possibly... that some churches may not have reported their numbers because their numbers are down.

    I mean, who wants to go from the 5th largest church in America to 8th?

    When this whole list thing started a few years back, it was fun.  It was interesting.  And, the first list ever presented, was probably the most honest.

    Human tendency says that the next year, the pressure was on to put up a better number for the list than the year before.  Now years into it, it's more and more difficult to produce an honest number that looks better the year before's number.  After all, you have people out there (like Kent!) who actually look at the numbers and compare them to other lists and other years.

    I'm not saying that churches knowingly fudge their numbers.  Not at all.  I'm just saying that there is an inherent pressure to make your numbers look better than last year's numbers.  And if you can't, maybe you don't participate in the top 100 list.

    Of course, this is just a theory.  It could be that some of these churches are just taking the more noble approach as Kent suggests, or that they simply forgot to report their numbers.

    I respect the people who do the research on the list.  I know them, and they are honest researchers and publishers.  Unfortunately for them though, having a top 100 list where a growing number of churches refuse to participate does not help their cause.  You simply can't have a top 100 list when part of the 100 is not included.

    What do you think?  Do you look at the top 100 lists?  Are they helpful?  Do you think they've run their course?  And do they lose any credibility when not everyone is included?

    I'd love to hear your thoughts.



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    1. Rich Kirkpatrick on Wed, September 15, 2010

      I suspect “down” is a common thing. The myth is that a growth in overall attendance over a short period means spiritual growth—or even evangelism. It is possible that church’s have a life cycle and seasons like any other organism or organization.

    2. Matt Steen on Wed, September 15, 2010

      I have always wondered how 2 Samuel 24 plays into this whole numbering of the congregation thing…  we get so wrapped up in numbers… I tend to think it is a bad thing.

    3. Leonard on Wed, September 15, 2010

      I used this list to look at 2 things.  What kind of communication process did they use their website for.  In a day of media and web, I just wanted to see how much attention they paid to their web design.  I found most used as simple and crisp a website as possible.  I thought this was wise. 

      I used it to pray.  The pastor from one of the largest churches in this country once said, “there are churches, pastor and leaders out there that would rather I have and affair and fall than see anyone else come to Willow.” 

      I pray for not just these leaders but for the church in this country to be who God made it to be…

    4. CS on Wed, September 15, 2010

      I think these lists further the fallacy that big church=good church.  Just because a ton of people go there on a weekend or a church is growing at an exponential rate does not mean that that church is a godly church with good theology.  It’s become pretty routine that of the top ten largest churches in the US, usually at least 5 are bad or heretical.


    5. Bryan Craddock on Wed, September 15, 2010

      I find the list interesting, but I assume the numbers aren’t too accurate. I’ve served on staff at two large churches and it’s almost impossible to accurately track how many people are coming. We all tend to round up unless there’s really an undeniable drop.

    6. Peter Hamm on Thu, September 16, 2010

      I glance at the list, I don’t pay for it, and I am less affected by it all the time.

      I am interested, often, in hearing from people who’ve stayed on the list for a long time, because at the very least they may know loads about leadership that I can learn from them. (Groeschel comes to mind.) But I’m in a rural area and less affected by it than many.

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