Churches to watch this year…

The metrics that matter most in ministry are true conversions, maturing disciples, and selfless acts that advance the gospel message. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to truly measure this in just one church let alone tens of thousands of churches.

Instead those who study churches rely on metrics like weekly attendance, growth rates, subjective opinions, scope of influence, and church planting efforts as hints to gauge if a church is successful. The underlying flaw with this is sometimes exceptional churches have humble results in terms of size, growth, and influence while sometimes unhealthy churches know all the right formulas to give the appearance of spiritual success.

It is an imperfect way to measure churches. And no church is perfect. Regardless, these metrics are our most reliable, efficient, and accurate way to gauge churches in research studies.

One of the wisest things a pastor can do outside of studying God’s Word is learn from other churches. Ministry is a busy vocation, so it is important to use your limited time wisely when looking for churches to study.

There are roughly 320,000 churches in the United States, and obviously no one has time to study them all. In fact, few people have time to study all 486 churches from the 20 big “top churches” lists published since 2004. If you are looking for some top churches to watch in America, I have created mashups of the top churches to study in the areas of growth, innovation, church planting, size, influence, and overall.

See the complete churches to watch list.

Keep in mind these lists aren’t perfect. Many are subjective. Some have misinformation. But I find these mashups to be a step in the right direction of creating better lists.

Also, keep in mind that these aren’t the only churches worth watching. You should also be learning from local churches, church plants, and more.

My methods for ranking the churches are simple. Churches are ranked (1) by how many lists they have been included on and (2) by the average ranking they have had on the lists. See the end of the article for a list of all lists referenced.

TOP 10 U.S. CHURCHES to learn from about CHURCH GROWTH
These are the top churches to learn from about how to consistently experience high level growth.

Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL) :: Chris Hodges
Made 7/8 growth lists with an average rank of #29.86
Crossroads Community Church (Cincinnati, OH) :: Brian Tome
Made 7/8 growth lists with an average rank of #37.14
Seacoast Church (Mt. Pleasant, SC) :: Greg Surratt
Made 7/8 growth lists with an average rank of #59.14
Lancaster County Bible Church (Manheim, PA) :: David Ashcraft
Made 7/8 growth lists with an average rank of #68.0
Mars Hill Church (Seattle, WA) :: Mark Driscoll
Made 6/8 growth lists with an average rank of 34.17
Central Christian Church (Las Vegas, NV) :: Jud Wilhite
Made 6/8 lists with an average rank of 36.0
Woodlands Church (Woodlands, TX) :: Kerry Shook
Made 6/8 growth lists with an average rank of #37.0
Christ’s Church of the Valley (Peoria, AZ) :: Don Wilson
Made 6/8 growth lists with an average rank of 37.67
Community Bible Church (San Antonio, TX) :: Robert Emmitt
Made 6/8 growth lists with an average rank of #48.33
NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) :: Perry Noble
Made 6/8 growth lists with an average rank of #49.17
TOP 10 U.S. CHURCHES to learn from about CHURCH INNOVATION
These are the top churches to learn from about innovative methods.

LifeChurch.tv (Edmond, OK) :: Craig Groeschel
Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #1
Granger Community Church (Granger, IN) :: Mark Beeson
Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #2.5
Mars Hill Church (Seattle, WA) :: Mark Driscoll
[tie for 3rd] Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #5.5
Seacoast Church (Mt. Pleasant, SC) :: Greg Surratt
[tie for 3rd] Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #5.5
Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX) :: Ed Young, Jr.
[tie for 5th] Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #6
Mosaic Church (Los Angeles, CA) :: Erwin McManus
[tie for 5th] Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #6
North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, GA) :: Andy Stanley
[tie for 5th] Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #6
National Community Church (Washington, DC) :: Mark Batterson
Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #9.5
Community Christian Church (Naperville, IL) :: Dave Ferguson
Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #10
Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) :: Rick Warren
Made 2/2 innovation lists with an average rank of #12
TOP 10 U.S. CHURCHES to learn from about CHURCH PLANTING
These are the top churches to learn from about planting multiple churches.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (New York, NY) :: Tim Keller
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #1
Mars Hill Church (Seattle, WA) :: Mark Driscoll
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #2
Northwood Church (Keller, TX) :: Bob Roberts
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #3
Perimeter Church (Duluth, GA) :: Randy Pope
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #4
Spanish River Church (Boca Raton, FL) :: David Nicholas
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #5
East 91st Street Christian Center (Indianapolis, IN) :: Derek Duncan
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #6
Community Christian Church (Naperville, IL) :: Dave Ferguson
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #7
Fellowship Bible Church (Little Rock, AR) :: Bill Wellons
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #8
Kensington Community Church (Troy, MI) :: Steve Andrews
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #9
Church at the Springs (Ocala, FL) :: Ron Sylvia
Made 1/1 church planting lists with a rank of #10
TOP 10 U.S. CHURCHES to learn from about CHURCH SIZE
These are the top churches to learn from about running a large church.

Lakewood Church (Houston, TX) :: Joel Osteen
Made 6/6 size lists with an average attendance of 44,333
Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL) :: Bill Hybels
Made 6/6 size lists with an average attendance of 23,213
Second Baptist Church (Houston, TX) :: Ed Young, Sr.
Made 6/6 size lists with an average attendance of 22,325
North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, GA) :: Andy Stanley
Made 6/6 size lists with an average attendance of 22,015
LifeChurch.tv (Edmond, OK) :: Craig Groeschel
**Made 4/4 size lists with an average attendance of 20,894
**(did not report numbers in 2010 & 2011 despite mid-30K+ attendance)
Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) :: Rick Warren
Made 6/6 size lists with an average attendance of 20,489
Southeast Christian Church (Louisville, KY) :: Dave Stone
Made 6/6 size lists with an average attendance of 18,348
Phoenix First Assembly (Phoenix, AZ) :: Tommy Barnett
**Made 4/4 size lists with an average attendance of 17,023
**(did not report numbers in 2008 & 2009)
Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) :: Bob Coy
Made 6/6 size lists with an average attendance of 16,900
TOP 10 U.S. CHURCHES to learn from that are INFLUENCING OTHER CHURCHES
These are the top churches that are influencing how other churches do ministry.

Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL) :: Bill Hybels
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #1.33
Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) :: Rick Warren
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #1.67
North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, GA) :: Andy Stanley
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #3.33
Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX) :: Ed Young, Jr.
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #3.67
Lakewood Church (Houston, TX) :: Joel Osteen
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #5.67
The Potter’s House (Dallas, TX) :: T.D. Jakes
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #8.33
LifeChurch.tv (Edmond, OK) :: Craig Groeschel
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #9.33
The Brooklyn Tabernacle (Brooklyn, NY) :: Jim Cymbala
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #10.67
The Church of the Resurrection UMC (Leawood, KS) :: Adam Hamilton
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #11
North Coast Church (Vista, CA) :: Larry Osborne
Made 3/3 influential lists with an average rank of #11.33
TOP 29 U.S. CHURCHES to learn from in ALL AREAS
These are the top churches that excel in all the measured areas from lists.

Seacoast Church (Mt. Pleasant, SC) :: Greg Surratt
Made 18/20 lists with an average rank of #42.39
Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA) :: Rick Warren
Made 16/20 lists with an average rank of #14.38
New Hope Christian Fellowship (Oahu, HI) :: Wayne Cordeiro
Made 16/20 lists with an average rank of #28.31
North Point Community Church (Alpharetta, GA) :: Andy Stanley
Made 15/20 lists with an average rank of #12.80
Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, IL) :: Bill Hybels
Made 15/20 lists with an average rank of #25.67
Woodlands Church (Woodlands, TX) :: Kerry Shook
Made 15/20 lists with an average rank of #25.67
Mars Hill Church (Seattle, WA) :: Mark Driscoll
Made 15/20 lists with an average rank of #28.87
LifeChurch.tv (Edmond, OK) :: Craig Groeschel
Made 14/20 lists with an average rank of #8.64
Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX) :: Ed Young, Jr.
Made 14/16 lists with an average rank of #11.14
Southeast Christian Church (Louisville, KY) :: Dave Stone
Made 14/16 lists with an average rank of #26.07
NorthRidge Church (Plymouth, MI) :: Brad Powell
Made 14/20 lists with an average rank of #41.79
Second Baptist Church (Houston, TX) :: Ed Young, Sr.
Made 13/20 lists with an average rank of #20.54
Christ’s Church of the Valley (Peoria, AZ) :: Don Wilson
Made 13/20 lists with an average rank of #29.38
NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) :: Perry Noble
Made 13/20 lists with an average rank of #44.85
Lakewood Church (Houston, TX) :: Joel Osteen
Made 12/16 lists with an average rank of #2.33
Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) :: Bob Coy
Made 12/16 lists with an average rank of #23.75
Central Christian Church (Las Vegas, NV) :: Jud Wilhite
Made 12/20 lists with an average rank of 27.50
Crossroads Community Church (Cincinnati, OH) :: Brian Tome
Made 12/20 lists with an average rank of #34.25
Community Bible Church (San Antonio, TX) :: Robert Emmitt
Made 12/20 lists with an average rank of #39.50
The Church of the Resurrection UMC (Leawood, KS) :: Adam Hamilton
Made 12/20 lists with an average rank of #44.08
Lancaster County Bible Church (Manheim, PA) :: David Ashcraft
Made 12/20 lists with an average rank of #65.17
Prestonwood Baptist Church (Plano, TX) :: Jack Graham
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of #28.55
First Baptist Church Hammond (Hammond, IN) :: Jack Schaap
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of #30.00
McLean Bible Church (Vienna, VA) :: Lon Soloman
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of #32.0
Church of the Highlands (Birmingham, AL) :: Chris Hodges
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of 32.64
North Coast Church (Vista, CA) :: Larry Osbourne
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of 40.82
Eagle Brook Church (White Bear Lake, MN) :: Bob Merritt
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of 41.73
Harvest Bible Church (Rolling Meadows, IL) :: James MacDonald
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of 43.45
Mariner’s Church (Irvine, CA) :: Kenton Beshore
Made 11/20 lists with an average rank of 49.73
I appreciate that these lists prove that success in ministry can be achieved with a variety of models. They represent a wide spectrum of denominations and ministry philosophies that reach an equally diverse spectrum of cultures and communities. Something valuable can be learned from each church.

Referenced Lists

Outreach magazine’s 2011 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2011 100 Largest U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2010 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2010 100 Largest U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2009 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2009 100 Largest U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2008 America’s 25 Most Innovative Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2008 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2008 103 Largest U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2007 America’s 25 Most Innovative Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2007 101 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2007 100 Largest U.S. Churches
The Church Report’s 2007 50 Most Influential Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2007 America’s Top 25 Multiplying Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2006 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2006 100 Largest U.S. Churches
The Church Report’s 2006 50 Most Influential Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2005 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
The Church Report’s 2005 50 Most Influential Churches
Outreach magazine’s 2004 100 Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches
Special thanks to Outreach magazine, Ed Stetzer, and Church Growth Today for their work in compiling the data for the original lists.

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