Important Trends in Churches Today

A recent study, “Changing American Congregations: Findings from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study,” points to some fascinating developments in the religious landscape of the United States.  These demographic trends are important to note given that in a sense, these are the waters in which we swim.  And with all trends, important to note, they are not “forever” and “always” but instead present us with a snap shot of “now.”

Five Trends:

  1. More ethnic diversity
  2. More acceptance of gays and lesbians
  3. Increasingly informal worship
  4. Declining size (but not from the perspective of the average attendee),
  5. Declining denominational affiliation


  1. Most congregations remain small, with 90% having 350 or fewer people
  2. The median number of people involved in any way in the average church dropped from 150 in 1998 and 2006 to 135 in 2012
  3. The median number of regular participants declined from 80 in 1998 to 75 in 2006, and to 70 in 2012
  4. The median attendance at the main worship service was 70 in 1998, 65 in 2006, and only 60 in 2012
  5. The congregation attended by the average person was larger in 2012 than it was in the earliest time measured (The average church is smaller. The average attendee goes to a larger church)
  6. The median of regularly participating adults in the average person’s congregation increased from 275 in 1998 to 280 in 2006, and increased again to 301 in 2012.
  7. This is because the churchgoing population has become more concentrated in larger congregations, an important trend in the social organization of American religion worship styles, declining size (but not from the perspective of the average attendee), and declining denominational affiliation

What does this mean for us at NCL?

  1. We are well positioned in many ways.
  2. Our congregation clearly reflects many of the trends noted above
  3. In one sense we are a big church with over 350 “members”, clearly in the top 10% nationwide.
  4. In another sense we are small.  Our attendance average of 210 puts on the bottom of that top 10%

And our job … keep loving people, keep loving God, taking note of the numbers and trends but not being slave to them.


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