By Josie Rabbitt
NASHVILLE — Twenty Southern Baptist congregations are among the 2016 top 100 fastest growing and largest participating churches in the U.S., with NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., ranking highest in both categories among Southern Baptists.
In the lists compiled annually in collaboration between Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Christian Resources, NewSpring Church ranks third on the largest participating churches list and eighth among the fastest growing churches named in Outreach’s October issue.
NewSpring, under the leadership of interim senior pastor Clayton King, reported an average attendance of 33,761 and a 21 percent growth of 5,925, according to the list.
The nearest Southern Baptist church in growth was Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., the pastorate of Archie Mason, ranking number 11 and reporting a 30 percent growth of 958 in its attendance of 4,203. It was followed closely by Beltway Park Church in Abilene, Texas, the pastorate of David McQueen, ranking 15 and recording 25 percent growth of 966 for an average attendance of 4,836.
In participation, Saddleback Church, the pastorate of Rick Warren in Lake Forest, Calif., was the second highest Southern Baptist church, ranking fifth with an attendance of 25,612. Elevation Church in Matthews, N.C., under the leadership of Steven Furtick, followed closely at number 11 with 21,146 in attendance.
In the self-reported survey, LifeWay Research surveys 27,000 churches for information, verifies the numbers, calculates the results and compiles the lists. In turn, Outreach interviews many pastors and writes features profiling churches and leaders.
Southern Baptist churches achieved higher rankings in the category of participation than in the area of growth, Outreach and LifeWay found. Each list includes 20 Southern Baptist congregations, with seven of those churches ranking in the top 100 on both lists. All numbers are based on attendance, not official membership, according to the report, and captures numbers from February and March of 2015, excluding Easter Sunday.
Tennessee churches in the ranking included Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, led by Pastor Steve Gaines, ranked 65 in attendance with 7,329, and Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, led by Pastor Robby Gallaty, ranked 76 in attendance with 6,582.
Though not included by Baptist Press, Faith Promise Church, Knoxville, was cited as both one of the fastest growing and largest churches. According to the TBC accounting office, Faith Promise contributes through the Cooperative Program.