How many churches close each decade?

Feb. 1, 2009 | by Tom Harper

I used to think we should stop planting so many churches and focus those resources on reviving the dying ones. But the fact is, if we want to continue growing the church, we must continue planting at an even greater pace than we’re planting now.

The following graph from chapter 7 of The American Church in Crisis illustrates the grim path we are on. We need more planters, and we need these planters to birth churches more often!

In this decade, both the number of closures and the number of new churches have increased.  Unfortunately, the increased net gain in churches has slowed down as the closures have increased more than the new churches.  Figure 7.1 shows the number of churches that closed in the US each year in the 1990s and in the decade of the 2000s, followed by the number of new churches started each year for both categories.6  The third column shows the yearly net gain in churches across the US, which is 303 per year.  The final column shows that there needs to be a yearly net gain of 3,205 churches to keep up with American population growth.7 This number is ten times higher than the actual net gain.  For the American church to keep up with population growth, 2,900 additional new churches need to be started each year.

6. This number reflects those that are started and last long enough to report an attendance figure.
7. Having this net gain would keep the ratio of people per church constant.

From The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches, by David T. Olson (Zondervan, 2008); used with permission

Topics: Consulting , Outreach , Research

Tom Harper / Tom Harper is president of Networld Media Group, a publisher of online trade journals and events for the banking, retail, restaurant and church leadership markets. He is the author of Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (B&H).
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