Influential US Churches Typically Large, Non-Denominational

Jody Brown | AgapePress | Thursday, July 13, 2006

Influential US Churches Typically Large, Non-Denominational

(AgapePress) - Almost 40 percent of the 50 most influential churches in the United State are not affiliated with a denomination -- and size apparently equates to influence. Those are among the interesting findings coming out of a survey of more than 2,000 Protestant pastors conducted earlier this year.

The Church Report magazine says this year's list of "The Most Influential Churches in America" reflects a general consensus among the pastors surveyed that while those churches on the list do not all share the same view of all biblical doctrine, they do represent "the passion and sense of missions mandated in the New Testament." Another common factor, says the report, is that the most influential churches do not view themselves as better than others. "Each just considers itself as a church wanting to be pleasing and useful to God and their understanding of His mandates to them," it states.

Apparently the number of congregants is an indicator of influence -- in the eyes of pastors, anyway -- as is the notoriety of a church's senior pastor. Heading the list are five mega-churches that currently average more than 16,000 weekend attenders and that are consistently found among America's fastest growing churches each year. And in each case, the church is led by a male pastor whose name is familiar in the evangelical community and among readers of Christian books: Willow Creek Community Church (Bill Hybels; South Barrington, IL); Saddleback Church (Rick Warren; Lake Forest, CA); North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley; Alpharetta, GA); Fellowship Church (Ed Young, Jr.; Grapevine, TX); and Lakewood Church (Joel Osteen; Houston, TX).

More than half of the pastors surveyed included these five churches among the ten they were asked to identify as the most influential. In all, pastors recommended 83 different churches. Rounding out the top ten were Southeast Christian Church (Louisville, KY); Life Church (Edmond, OK); T.D. Jakes' Potter's House in Dallas; Brooklyn Tabernacle (Brooklyn, NY); and North Coast Church of Vista, CA.

Other well-known churches on the list include Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, Mars Hill Bible Church, Frazer United Methodist Church, Without Walls Church, Harvest Christian Fellowship, and Fellowship of the Woodlands. Pastors noted on the list include Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell, David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, John Piper, Tony Evans, John Ortberg, Max Lucado, and Kirbyjon Caldwell.

In terms of numbers among the 50, churches affiliated with mainline denominations or networks of churches did not fare nearly as well on the list as did those considered to be non-denominational. Eighteen of the 50 were categorized as "non-affiliated," while Southern Baptist, Bible, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, United Methodist, and Calvary Chapel each had three or more among the top 50. Two of the top five, however -- Saddleback and Fellowship -- are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

In addition, 19 churches were new to this year's list -- among them Community Christian Church of Naperville, IL; Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa (CA); First Baptist Church of Hammond, IN; Fellowship Bible Church (Little Rock, AR); and Menlo Park (CA) Presbyterian Church. Thirteen of the top 50 are found in the Bible Belt (southeast and south-central portions of the country), and 11 in the north-central region. And the list included both old and new churches, with some dating back to the late 1950s. Two of the top five are relatively young churches, beginning in the 1990s.

The report notes both the changes in the list and the "age span" of the churches on the list. The changes, it says, reflect the "rapid change and diversity of ministry" among churches on a yearly basis. And the list also appears to affirm what it calls "new expressions of ministry by emerging churches" as well as "the best of churches that endure through eras of dramatic change."

"The Most Influential Churches in America" [PDF] report is available online at

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