Is my church normal?
At Ministry Architects, we’ve worked with over 900 churches, and inevitably, churches always want to know how they compare to “what is normal.”
As we’ve developed the whole church consulting corner of our work, we’ve made observations from churches we have worked with as well as research with other consultants across the country. After crunching those numbers, we’ve identified 7 rules of thumb for churches in the United States.
Here are a few important things you will want to keep in mind as you compare your numbers with our norms:
1. These numbers are an average of the churches we have worked with across the country as well as researched through the work of denominations, research groups, and other consultants. Some of these are small churches, some are large, some are urban, suburban, and others are rural. The average number includes ALL of them.
2. These numbers are not a clear indicator of health or sustainability in your ministry. A ministry could fall outside of the norms and still have a thriving ministry. However, by looking at these norms and comparing them to your own church’s numbers, you can learn how you compare to the national average, which enables you to have more conversations about your unique needs and circumstances and adjust accordingly. If you do fall outside these norms, we would suggest there are variables that will allow for a healthy ministry outside these norms.
3. As you look at the norms, remember these are averages gathered from across the country. Although there is some variance of the cost for ministry in New York City and Bryan, TX, they provide us with an accurate average to compare our church to.
A note about attendance.
We measure weekend worship attendance as an average. Though your church may have more (or fewer) members on the rolls, the number we use is the average worship attendance over the course of a year.
We are seeing churches invest on average $1,400 per attendee per year. This includes staff salaries and benefits, as well as the yearly program budget. As noted before, the cost of living in a particular area may cause this number to vary from church to church. The $1,400 per attendee budget is an average of diverse congregations across the country.
We’ve found that most churches have the equivalent of 1 full-time staff member (40 hours per week) for every 75 people in average total worship attendance. Keep in mind that churches in an active growth season are typically staffed in the range of 1 full-time equivalent (FTE) for every 86-100 worship attendees. This is usually because churches that are growing are engaging more lay people in the leadership of the church, rather than paying staff members to do most of the work.
In a typical church, the percentage of the budget that goes to support the staff of the church (including salaries, continuing education, and benefits) tends to fall in the range of 45-55%. This includes all staff, from clergy to admin to janitors.
Note: this is another number that may vary due to cost of living differences across the country.
A church’s ministry is also impacted by the physical layout of its campus and the constraints it may contain. Typically, parking and seating become challenges for churches who are looking to see growth. Consider the following norms:
- Parking Spaces: Most churches need one parking space for every 1.66 attendees (or 3 for every 5). If you multiply your existing parking spaces by 1.66, you’ll find a maximum of how many people can attend a single service in your church. Of course, this number may be very different in urban contexts where parking is at a premium and walking or public transportation options are available.
- Seating Capacity: Most church services will simply stop growing once the worship center is 80% filled on a regular basis. While something may be done to push the attendance higher for a season, it will likely settle back around 80%.One way to continue to add capacity in both parking and seating is to add additional worship services prior to making any physical changes to the campus. As a church adds services, it’s also important to keep in mind that a 2nd service will typically reach 80% of the amount of the first service and a third service will typically reach 60% of the first service.
For the average church, about 10-30% of first-time visitors could potentially turn into regular attendees. Therefore, in order to grow by 100 people in a single year, the church will need to see about 400 first time guests in that year (including guests at regular services and special services like Easter Sunday.) Keep in mind that the more intentional and effective your hospitality and guest follow-up systems are, the more likely you will reach that 10-30% retention rate.
In an average church, 45% of the weekend worship attendees (adults and students, but not children) are serving regularly in a volunteer role. Normally this number is correlated to the amount spent on staffing; the more staff a church has, the lower the volunteer percentage becomes as more of the work is accomplished by paid workers. “Active volunteers” in this average includes people who volunteer at least once a month in any role. You are counting individual people, not how many volunteer roles are in the church. If you have 200 people on the roles and one person fills them all, you have one active volunteer.
Involvement in Groups
While data for what’s normal for churches in group involvement is hard to quantify, there are some targets worth noting. It’s been observed that healthy churches have at least 40-50% of their adult attendance in some form of small groups; great churches have upwards of 80% small group participation. We’re counting any groups that serve as some kind of “micro community.” That includes groups like men’s Bible study, a young adult Sunday school classes, and discipleship huddles.
How can I apply these figures to my church?
As you look at these numbers and compare them to your church’s numbers, remember that these numbers are an average of hundreds of churches across the country, so many factors will influence why you are close to these norms or why your numbers vary. Some of the most common variables are cost of living, the complexity of programming, number of services, location, and church culture.
Look for places where your church is running above or below the national average. Invite your church leaders into a conversation about those variations. Here are some questions you might want to ask:
• Why do we vary?
• Is there more than one reason?
• Do we want to change?
• If so, do we feel equipped to change?
• What specific steps do we need to take?
• Who will be responsible for those steps?
• What help do we need?
This data might raise as many questions as it answers. Feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected]