A new 2015 study showing attendance at mid-size churches growing rapidly is big news for a vertical market known mostly for the extremes of tiny and massive congregations. This study confirms my own anecdotal findings that have been presented here on rAVe for years, suggesting a shift for the House of Worship (HOW) market towards more Audio/Video/Lighting (AVL) technologies due to the growth of mid-size to large churches.
Though it is estimated that 90 percent of the approximate 300,000 Protestant churches in the US average attendance of less than 100 people, the other 10 percent of the market — about 30,000 churches — has more than provided enough market opportunity for an entire sub-industry to spring up that serves this niche vertical. According to church researcher Dr. Scott Thumma, there are roughly 30,000 Protestant churches with weekly worship attendances (adults and children) of 500-1,799, which account for over 40 percent of all worship attendees (those above 1,800 account for another 10 percent of all weekly worshippers).
The new research (2015 Study of Large Churches 500 – 1,800 attendance) shows that more than half of all weekly attendees go to churches that are larger than 500 weekly worshippers in size. The vast majority of these congregations are growing quite rapidly compared to smaller churches at a median five-year growth rate of 17 percent.
Why This is Big News for the AVL Market
Much has already been made about the mega church (>2,000 weekly attendance) and giga church (>7,000 weekly attendance) subset of the HOW market. The overall decline of church attendance in America has also made the news, but this study shows that even though smaller churches are continuing to decline, the steady and significant growth of this mid-size market represents a shift in attendance patterns. And that’s a big deal because larger attendance yields an increase in annual budgets, especially in double-digit growth churches.
Following this simple logic points to another reality: with larger attendance comes either larger facilities or more emphasis on additional venues – and both require more (or upgraded) AVL technology!
Interestingly, the 40 percent of weekly church attendance at churches running between 500 and 1,799 also yields some insightful demographic information. Key findings revealed:
- Just over two-thirds of the weekly attendees are under age 50
- Of this group, multi-site churches are growing at a far faster rate than single-site churches
- Seemingly less importance is placed on denominational connections with an intentional migration out of denominations, making autonomy for budgeting and purchases easier
From a sales and marketing standpoint, these younger churches are far more likely to be tech-native, not just tech-savvy. It’s not a question of ‘if’ they use more AVL technology, it’s a question of ‘how much’ more they’ll use as a natural part of their demographic users and audience. And with multi-site once again taking a prominent role in a church growth trend and strategy, the opportunities for multiple sales and equipment standardization and training come right along with the growth curve of this research.
Demographic Trends Influence AVL Technology Purchases
Understanding the demographic makeup of these churches provides helpful insight into how to position products and services to these church leaders. According to the research, “Those persons attracted to large churches are youthful, family-oriented and solidly middle class. The highest percentage of attendees are in their 30s to 40s, and a full 68 percent are under the age of 50. This means the large churches are not just filled with middle-aged or younger adults but with significant numbers of children and teens.” And where you find an emphasis on family, teens, and kids, you’ll find a proportionate emphasis on excellent AVL technology to maximize the experience and keep them coming back.
The study also captured a fascinating trend: the use of organs has decreased dramatically while the use of video projection has increased exponentially, a signal in the massive shift of church service styles. Interestingly, just over half of these churches use live video for image magnification (IMAG), an expensive and labor-intensive technology play that requires significant lighting and solid audio support.
The church leaders themselves also provide a clue in the growth trends:
- Nearly seven out of 10 of these churches (69 percent) are under the leadership of the senior pastor under whose tenure the most dramatic growth occurred
- These clergy are, on average, 52 years old, male and have a Masters or Doctoral degrees
- Half of them have become the senior leader of the church since 2004
That kind of insight helps define the persona for marketing purposes and is a key bit of information for salespeople calling on this church market segment.
Do the Math
Since there are 300,000 Protestant churches in the US, and 10 percent of the HOW market accounts for 50 percent of weekly church attendance in the US, and 40 percent of those are in churches averaging attendance between 500 and 1,799, and the majority of those are (or are considering) multi-site, and the use of video is skyrocketing — well, how much more incentive does a manufacturer or systems integrator need to fully invest in serving this market? The business case could not be more solid to serve the nearly 14,000 churches in this category alone!
If you still need more data to convince your marketing teams and sales managers to help you target this market, be sure to also read my insights on:
- Is the Church Market Profitable?
- Fewer Large Installations; More Smaller Iterations
- Church Video Venues in High Demand
- Three Mistakes AVL Manufacturers are Making
- Half a Billion Reasons to Enter This Market
- $580MM in One Year: Multi-site Churches
The HOW vertical market used to be a best-kept secret of a small number of niche integrators and a few savvy manufacturers. Today, especially in light of these stats, the field is wide open for those with the sense to serve this underserved market.
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