I have been a student of American churches for thirty years. That statement really means two things: I’m old, and I’m a slow learner.
In those thirty years, one of my most fascinating learning ventures has been the discovery of breakout churches.
Simply defined, a breakout church is a congregation that has experienced at least five years of decline followed by at least five years of growth.
While numerical growth is not the inerrant barometer for church health, we researchers must use numerical gauges for much of our objective data.
The Common Factor
As my research team began sorting and analyzing the data of some 50,000 churches, we found a common factor in many of the breakout churches: the breakout took place when the church got a new pastor. While that finding is helpful from a research perspective, it’s not very helpful to many churches. And it’s certainly not helpful to the pastors of struggling churches.
So our research took a new twist. We only looked at churches that experienced breakouts without changing pastors. I was encouraged by our findings.