The State of the American Church – Why Church Planting is Critical to the Future of American Christianity

National New Church Conference
Teacher: Dave Olson, Director of Church Planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church and Director of The American Church Research Project.

Many Christian leaders wonder whether planting new churches is necessary for the future of the American Church. They say: Don’t we have enough churches already? Aren’t most new churches very small? Most new churches don’t survive anyway, do they? Shouldn’t we focus instead on the small, struggling churches we already have?

42-45% of Americans say they go to church on Sunday according to George Barna and George Gallup. From 1991 to 2006 this number increased from 36% to 47%, this is an 11% increase (in a country with roughly 300 million people, this means 33 million people started to attend church. Olson believes these survey's are wrong and are greatly impacted by the halo effect. For example, of those surveyed, 54% said they voted in an area where only 46% actually did. Olson doesn't base his research on these polls but actual headcounts at 200,000 churches. [His question is, how many pastors ever under count attendance?] Some of Olson's findings include:

17.7% of the US population attends church.
This breaks down into 9% evangelical, 5.5% Catholic and 3.1% Mainline denominations.

The rate of those who attend church is declining. In the West, there is a -1.2% decrease in the population of who attends church in the 1994-2004 timeframe. Nationwide, to just to keep up with population growth, we would need to plant 51,826 more churches than we did in this period. Including churches that were planted, this means we would have needed to plant over 100,000 churches! The greatest increase and conversion occurs in church plants. For more of the statistics, and for specific statistics for the top 80 Metro areas, go to The American Church.