I have been alternating newsletter topics between ECO’s flourishing church measures and our values. In the normal sequence, this month is focused on the value of Our Mutual Spurring (which is also the value we will be focusing on at our 2020 National Gathering in February). However, I wanted to address this topic from a slightly different angle by focusing on some analysis of our annual statistics. I am pleased to say that we have had a record percentage of congregations complete their statistical reports. These reports are incredibly important because they help us to track trends and pinpoint needs in the denomination.
Let me first give some basic information. At the end of 2018, we had 383 churches. We had accepted or planted a total of 391, but since our inception, a few of those have closed, merged, and we have had one that has left ECO. We have a total of 129,765 covenant partners and average worship attendance of 82,978. We have about 20 church plants. Six of those have launched public worship, and several churches that had been plants have become chartered congregations.
Here are a few more highlights:
Apples to apples comparison in worship attendance. At the beginning, when we were having explosive growth of congregations transferring to ECO, it was important to ensure that we were asking how individual congregations were doing when they came into ECO. We are able to then compare congregations who have been in ECO for at least a year to see how they are doing in worship attendance as a whole. On the whole, average worship attendance is down .7%. Last year it was down about 1.5% and the previous year it was down 2%. On the one hand, the rate of decline is slowing down (which is good). On the other hand, we are still dying more slowly.
It is also helpful to take a look at churches based upon the year that they came in. Those that came in during 2012-13 are up in worship attendance by 4%. Those that came in 2014 are up by 2%. Those who came in 2015 are even. This is not to say that those that came in earlier are healthier! Rather it is to say that what we notice is that it takes about 3 years before the trajectory changes. For example, the churches that came in 2015 had been down by 2% during 2017 but were even in 2018. This general characteristic holds true for those who came in during each year.
We are getting a little more diverse every year. At the beginning of ECO, our demographic trends could only be based on churches that came into ECO. We also tended to have a higher percentage of Caucasian churches come into ECO, so we were 94% Caucasian as opposed to 90% Caucasian in the PC(USA). However, we have been trending towards more diversity every year. We went from 91% Caucasian to 90% in 2016, and then to about 88% in 2018. The exciting aspect of this statistic is that since we aren’t taking in a lot of congregations right now, this means that are churches themselves are becoming more diverse.
We started more church plants in 2018 than in any other year. In 2018, we had ten new church plants, and we altered the way we approved church planting. Presbyteries had asked for greater help in approving church plants, so we have taken on that responsibility on a national level. This plan has proven to be very helpful. We can outsource some of the assessment of the plants and planters and therefore help these church plants have a greater chance of success.
The greatest bright spot in ECO is with those in the Church Transformation process. We have almost completed our second church transformation cohort. The statistics in the first transformation cohort are proving to be true in the second cohort as well. We have more consistent tracking with these congregations and are finding a 15% average increase in worship attendance one year after the church has had their consultation. This percentage is average - with some being higher and some certainly having a much rougher go of it, but nonetheless, 15% is the average increase. The other most exciting aspect of the church transformation process is that most of the growth has been from conversions. Approximately 60 people have come to know Christ through the ministry of the 8 churches in the second cohort. This number is an average of 1 new person per every 8 people in worship. If these statistics were true across the denomination, then we would have 10,000 new people coming to know Jesus and 100,000 people in average worship attendance next year, up from the 83,000 this year.
Because the Church Transformation process has been so successful, we are expanding the way we utilize this cohort. We are now offering the church transformation process in two tiers. The first tier is offering the pastor learning community not only to solo/senior pastors, but to assistants and associates.
I just started one in Northern California and Nevada presbytery and we have eighteen participants. The second tier that churches can opt into is the consultation and on-going coaching. While we think this second tier is critical, we hope this modification will greatly increase the number of pastors in learning communities and the number that jump into tier two. More information on Church Transformation can be found in the video below. Also, we have a flyer available here.
I am extremely grateful for our ECO community. Someone from the outside recently said, “ECO is uniquely positioned with its ethos nationally and congregationally to truly become the movement you set out to be, and is already showing great signs toward that.” I know we have a long way to go, but am thankful that we continue to learn and grow together into the body that God has called us to be. I look forward to celebrating what God is up to in ECO - and continuing the trajectory of building flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ - with you in February in Dallas.