(Photo: Willow Creek Association)
Outreach magazine has issued its latest report on the top 100 largest and fastest-growing churches in America. According to the annual list, more megachurches are expanding their reach with multiple campuses.
Of the 100 largest churches in the country, 75 are employing the multisite – one church, multiple locations – model. And most have three or more campuses.
More than half of the fastest-growing churches also have more than one location.
"It appears that once churches reach a certain level of growth, they are choosing to expand via satellite campuses," Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said in a statement.
He noted to The Christian Post that the multisite strategy is not a trend or an experiment in the megachurch world but rather the new normal.
The church listed with the most locations in the Outreach 100 report is Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ill., with 14 campuses. Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., follows with 12 campuses. Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., both have expanded to nine locations.
Mars Hill Church recently announced that it is no longer referring to its locations as "campuses" and instead calling them churches.
Though not your typical church – with attendees at the various locations watching a video broadcast of the preacher delivering his sermon – the Seattle congregation maintains that "every location is a church."
Each location, Mars Hill Church says, fulfills the biblical criteria for a church.
In total, the 100 largest churches in the Outreach list have 328 locations combined.
Largest Churches in America
Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston continues to top the largest churches list with an attendance of 43,500 people in a weekend.
North Point Community Church, led by Andy Stanley in Alpharetta, Ga., is listed as the second largest with 27,429 attendees. Bill Hybels' Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., follows with 24,377 attendees.
Seventeen of the largest churches are located in Texas while 15 are in California, according to Outreach.
Together, the top 100 largest churches draw more than 1 million attendees.
Stetzer, whose organization partnered with Outreach for the report, confirmed to CP that the number of megachurches is increasing every year.
As to whether some Americans still hold a negative perception of megachurches, Stetzer commented, "I think that some people are negative towards megachurches, but clearly more and more people are not. People vote with their feet.
"Some of the concerns are real and legitimate, but the best megachurches create systems and culture that moves people from being passive spectators to being active participants in the mission of God."
Fastest-Growing Churches in America
Christ's Church of the Valley in Peoria, Ariz., had the greatest numerical gain over the last year with an additional 4,049 in attendance.
Percentage-wise, Real Life Church in Valencia, Calif., saw the greatest gain with a 111 percent increase in attendance.
Listed as the fastest-growing church in America, however, is Richmond Outreach Center in Virginia, which grew by 83 percent, or 2,530 attendees. Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., came behind with a gain of 2,744 attendees or a 48 percent growth. And Real Life Church rounded out the top three.
Overall, the average attendance among the fastest-growing churches is 6,387.
The average attendance among the largest churches is 10,509.
Outreach 100 is not a comprehensive list. Data is based on a self-reported survey and not an independent investigation. Not all megachurches chose to participate in the annual report. The listings are based on February and March weekend attendance averages.
The complete list is available in a special Sept. 15 issue of Outreach.