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Most Church Congregations Are Small, But Most Churchgoers Are a Part of Large Congregations, Study Finds

Most Church Congregations Are Small, But Most Churchgoers Are a Part of Large Congregations, Study Finds

A new study found that while most American congregations are small, the majority of American churchgoers attend churches with larger congregations.

According to the comprehensive report of the National Congregations Study, more Americans who go to church want to attend a church with more resources and opportunities.

“Size is one of the most important characteristics of any organization, including congregations,” the NCS researchers explain in their summary. “It affects everything. More people mean more resources, more staff, and more programming. Large size also brings more complexity: different kinds of staff, more administration and coordination, bureaucracy, formality, and possibly a loss of the personal touch.”

The report said that the largest 9 percent of congregations boast about half of all churchgoers.

“Imagine that we have lined up all congregations in the United States from the smallest to the largest. Imagine that you are walking along this line, starting on the end with the smallest congregations. When you get to a congregation with 360 people, you would have walked past about half of all churchgoers, but more than 90 percent (91 percent, to be exact) of all congregations.

“Or imagine walking along this line of congregations from the other direction, starting with the very largest. When you get to that same 360-person congregation, you would have walked past only about 9 percent of all congregations, but half of all churchgoers.”

The NCS Research studied the 2018-2019 year and found that the median U.S. congregation had only 70 regular participants and an annual budget of about $100,000, Baptist News Global reports.

However, the average churchgoer attends a church with a congregation of 360 participants and a budget of $450,000.

The NCS data also showed there was a continuing decline in attendance at the average American church, from about 80 people in 1998 to 70 in 2019.

Other findings from the study include:

  • People in smaller congregations give more per capita than people in larger churches.
  • Most clergy jobs are in small churches
  • About one-quarter of clergy serve in the largest 9 percent of congregations, which contain about half of all churchgoers
  • Megachurches have become more likely to create a network of campuses served by a central hub


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Photo courtesy: Sarah Noltner/Unsplash

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.