The majority of Protestant pastors whose churches have built additional venues, added worship services or expanded their presence on the internet said such expansion projects have led to growth.
Although nearly half of the attendance growth resulted from transfers from another church, 32 percent of pastors contributed their higher numbers to drawing the unchurched.
The results are from LifeWay Research's latest survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors. The study was conducted for Cornerstone Knowledge Network, a group of church-focused firms developing innovative building and leadership solutions for ministry challenges.
After seeing many successful church expansion projects as well failures, Jim Couchenour of CKN said they wanted to find out the "core principles" and ideas they could pass on to church leaders that will allow them to be more effective both in their ministries and also in expanding facilities for ministries.
"We really believe there's kind of a new day dawning in terms of options for expansion," Couchenour said in a LifeWay podcast.
Decades ago, bigger buildings was typically the only way to grow. But with technological advances and more innovative thinking, churches have a lot more tools – such as multisite or an internet campus – to consider when approaching church growth.
"There needs to be more strategic thinking about how to add these ministry expansion options," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.
More churches are making the move to expand their outreach or change ministry outlets, as LifeWay's newly released survey shows.
In the last five years, 65 percent of Protestant churches have expanded their ministries one way or another.
More than one in four (28 percent) pastors said they added an additional worship service or venue on site; 28 percent also said they participated in starting a new church or churches; and 27 percent said they built new or additional ministry space – not necessarily a building – at the same site.
The results surprised Stetzer who at first was skeptical a survey of only 1,000 pastors would document many or "enough" cases of expansion or changes.
"I was surprised than more than a quarter, for example, had built additional ministry space at the same site," Stetzer commented. "This is not something that a rare church down the road does."
"It's not a majority but it is a common occurrence among churches," he added.
The survey also found that 14 percent of pastors said they began offering streaming video of worship services or teaching on the Internet; 10 percent added an additional worship service or venue off site; 4 percent bulit a new facility at a new site; and 3 percent merged with another church.
Most of the expansion projects have led to additional growth.
Nearly three in four pastors said building additional ministry space on site has led to growth and 82 percent agreed that adding another worship service or venue on site led to growth.
Building a new venue off site was also significantly related to growth.
Merging and offering online streaming video were the only two expansion projects where less than half of surveyed pastors said led to growth.
Among churches that did not pursue any type of ministry expansion, only 34 percent reported experiencing growth in the last five years and 29 percent reported a decline.
"Many churches who do not take steps to expand are struggling," commented Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. "Pastors of churches who take the same message to more people through new methods and new media are expressing the positive impact of these steps of faith."
Overall, 44 percent of surveyed pastors said their church attendance has grown by at least 10 percent.
Although ministry expansion has impacted growth in many churches, Stetzer cautioned that not all churches that build a new building will grow.
"Buildings don't reach people," he said. "People reach people."
Couchenour suggests churches that are considering expansion first begin with the DNA (who are we?) of the church, research the needs around them and figure out the context, and then ask "what is our calling?"
"It always has to start with who are we as a church and how has God uniquely blessed us and gifted us," he emphasized.