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Typical Adult Attendance
Two thirds of Adventist local churches have 50 or fewer adults in attendance on a typical Sabbath. Almost another third (29%) have 51 to 150 adults on hand for the worship hour. Just 4% of the 5,100 Adventist congregations inthe United States--or about 200--have 151 or more adults in attendance on a typical Sabbath.

Most Adventist churches are a small group when they assemble on a typical Sabbath for worship. The small group dynamics could be an asset in church growth, but are often a significant barrier. Interfaith research--including Adventist churches in the sample--has shown that within a few years of initial formation, congregations with 50 individuals or less in attendance become essentially "closed" groups. Because of the strong sense of community that develops and how well the group members come to know one another, it becomes increasingly difficult for newcomers to feel comfortable and fully assimilated. After the first two decades, congregations of this size almost never grow beyond a typical Sabbath attendance of 50 or less.

In the Adventist denomination in North America, many immigrant churches--Hispanic, Korean and Caribbean--are in this smallest category. They also have the best growth rates. But, they are not an exception to the general observations above. Rapid growth for immigrant churches generally takes place within the first two decades of congregational life. As immigrant churches get into the third and fourth decades and beyond, their growth slows to levels near that of the average for the North American Division.

The fastest growing congregations in many interfaith church growth studies are those with more than 150 in average worship attendance. Since there are only about 200 congregations of this type in the Adventist Church in the U.S., that fact is a significant strategic issue. These congregations, along with new church plants, have the greatest potential for growth within the American church.

Discussion Questions:

1. On a typical Sabbath, how many adults attend our church? Which category does that place us in?

2. When was this congregation started, and how does its longevity affect growth?

3. Are small group dynamics in our congregation an asset or barrier to church growth? How would a newcomer answer this question?

4. What could we do to make our group dynamics more open, comfortable and welcoming for our guests?

New FACT Information, Center for Creative Ministry