10 True-False Statements on the State of Churches and Denominations in America

This week we will have a major announcement about Church Answers taking a bigger step into the world of Christian and church research. Stay tuned for it.

In the meantime, let’s look at ten statements connected with current research on Christianity, churches, and denominations. Before you look at the answers, see how many you get correctly.

1. American non-denominational churches combined are larger than all mainline denominations combined.

2. The biggest contributor to church attendance decline can best be explained by the number of people who have joined the “Nones” (those who say they have no religious preference).

3. The median average worship attendance of churches in America is 90.

4. Over 20 percent of the regular participants in a church in the United States are under the age of 18.

5. Over 5,000 congregations left the United Methodist denomination in 2023 alone.

6. Over two-thirds of the active participants in churches are female.

7. Since the late 1980s to today, two denominations have grown, the Assemblies of God and the Presbyterian Church of America.

8. The decline in the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of numbers of members is the largest in the history of denominations in America.

9. Nearly seven of ten active church members live within 15 minutes of their church.

10. The median tenure of a solo/lead/senior pastor In America is just over three years.

While you may have been tempted to look at the answers below, I wonder how many you got right if you did not peek. Here are the answers:

1. True. Non-denominational church members account for 13% of American adults, more than all mainline denominations combined. (Ryan Burge: graphsaboutreligion.com)

2. False. For certain, the Nones have grown in number significantly. Depending on your research source, they account for about 30% of people in America. That’s a big number! While some church participants have moved into the None category (no religious preference), the greatest decline comes from the decreasing attendance frequency of church members. (ChurchAnswers.com, Ryan Burge: graphsaboutreligion.com)

3. False. The median average worship attendance is 65. (faithcommunitiestoday.org, the FACT 2020 Study)

4. True. 22.7% of church participants are under the age of 18. (faithcommunitiestoday.org, the FACT 2020 Study)

5. True. 5,643 congregations left the United Methodist Church in 2023 alone. (umnews.org)

6. False. But females do account for a majority (56%) of active participants in churches. (faithcommunitiestoday.org, the FACT 2020 Study)

7. True. But the Assemblies of God growth rate continues to decrease. It is near zero today. The Presbyterian Church of America has grown, but it remains a relatively small denomination with fewer than 400,000 members. (Ryan Burge: graphsaboutreligion.com)

8. True. The Southern Baptist Convention lost 1.32 million members in just three years (2020 to 2022), more than any denomination in history for such a short period. However, with over 5,600 disaffiliations in 2023 alone, the United Methodist Church will also have a dramatic decline in membership. (Ryan Burge: graphsaboutreligion.com, umnews.org)

9. True. 68% of church members live within 15 minutes of their congregations location. (faithcommunitiestoday.org, the FACT 2020 Study)

10. False. The median tenure is 7 years. (faithcommunitiestoday.org, the FACT 2020 Study)

I would love to hear your perspectives on these data points. Did any of the ten statements surprise you? What do these numbers tell you about the state of churches and Christianity in America today?

Let me hear from you.

Posted on January 1, 2024

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Andrew Doubleday says on

    Not too many surprises here. Thank you.
    I am interested in the now common reference to ‘non-denominational’ churches. I’d be keen to know how many of them are indeed stand alone independent congregations with no links to others. I’d suggest that the more successful ‘non-denominational’ churches of today, those effectively franchising themselves, will be tomorrow’s ‘mainline’ churches. They already have their own theologies, polity, leadership structures. They are fast becoming denominations – they just look different from the more traditional models.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Andrew –

      I think your intuition is correct. If I can find any corroborating data, I will certainly report it.

  • Larry Webb says on

    My biggest surprise is the tremendous fall of Southern Baptists. I got saved and attended SBC church all of my Christian life until I moved to a very rural area in Champaign county in Ohio. Lots of American Baptist but hardly any SBC churches. I realize Covid wreaked havoc on church attendance but it seems something else is at work here. The cooperative program and Sunday school were always my favorite things.

  • I was able to get most of these right. The one that completely fooled me was #10 – average tenure of lead/senior pastor. I never would have stretched my guess to more than five years, let alone seven. Now I’m trying to figure whether that’s a healthy trend with increased longevity or an unhealthy trend of elderly pastors not retiring for lack of a successor or lack of retirement resources.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You are on target, Wayne. The answer is”both.” You could also add a third factor: Mortgage rates and home prices make a move financially challenging.

  • Roger Lewis says on

    I think I remember in another blog you said the median size of churches is 54. Has it changed or is this just from two different data sources? I appreciate what you do!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Roger –

      I honestly don’t remember that number, but I’ve been wrong before trying to remember my own data. I typically follow the FACTS study that is updated every 5 years. Let me now if you come across the 54 number you recalled. Thanks.

      • Dave Daubert says on

        I have used numbers closer to 54 for median in the last couple of years. The 65 number is a 2020 number (pre-Covid) and attendance in most places is still down from where it was in 2020. 85% of 65 is 55 and that seems like a pretty safe guesstimate.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        I can’t argue with your logic, Dave. We will know for sure when the 2025 numbers are released.