Evangelical church growth vigorous, but hard to track

The Union Leader/November 10, 2004
By Kathryn Marchocki

Since many evangelical Protestant churches are independent, non-denominational congregations with no central governing body, it is difficult to track their numbers or members.

A review of churches registered with the Secretary of State's corporations division and an on-line church search site show at least 300 evangelical Christian churches and ministries operate in New Hampshire.

They range from home-based churches to full-scale complexes that draw more than 1,000 to Sunday services.

"My impression is the actual number is significantly larger," said David Lamarre-Vincent, executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches.

He estimates there could be anywhere from 300 to 700 evangelical Christian churches in New Hampshire, including independent and denominational congregations.

This compares with the total 600 to 700 mainline Protestant, Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic churches represented by the New Hampshire Council of Churches, Lamarre-Vincent said.

Among Roman Catholics alone - the state's single largest faith group with an estimated 327,000 members - there are a total 141 churches and missions, a diocesan spokesman said.

The long-standing Episcopal Diocese in New Hampshire has 49 parishes and missions with about 12,000 members, its spokesman said.

The American Religion Data Archive reports about 30,000 - or about 2.4 percent - of the state's 1.2 million population in 2000 were evangelical Protestants.

Pastor Keith Marsh of Grace Outreach in West Lebanon said roughly 5,000 to 7,000 evangelical Christians live in the Upper Valley alone and estimated they number in the "tens of thousands" statewide.

Given the lack of statistical data, anecdotal accounts offer insight into the growth of these congregations. For example:

  • In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were just a handful of "Bible-believing" churches and ministries within a 30-minute drive of Grace Outreach in West Lebanon, Pastor Keith Marsh said. Now there are about 80, he said.
  • Bethany Church in Greenland is the state's largest evangelical Protestant church, and it's growing. Long-term membership is about 1,200; an average 1,600 to 1,700 attend Sunday services, Pastor Bruce Boria said. The church maintains a database of more than 5,000 people.
  • In August, 45 adults were baptized in the ocean at New Castle Commons in Rye; 87 new church members signed up for membership classes on one weekend in September; and 660 children are registered for Sunday school, with about 100 more attending weekly than there were a year ago, Boria said.
  • Manchester Christian Church, a white-steepled complex located in the city's suburban northeast quarter, has seen average total attendance at Sunday services more than double in the last seven years from 319 in 1997 to 885 in 2003, Reynolds said.

Founded in 1961, the church operated at several locations, including rented space at Smyth Road School, before it built and moved into its current quarters in 1987.

With its 360-seat worship area too cramped to keep up with growing attendance, the church is in the midst of a major expansion project. It includes construction of a new 600-seat worship center and more than 8,000 square feet of new classroom space.

Manchester Christian Church partnered with Restoration House Ministries in 1996 in part to coordinate the opening, or "planting," of new churches in New England. Since 1999, they opened 11 new churches in all six states, four in New Hampshire, said Curt W. Nordhielm, director of cross-cultural ministries. Future plans include "planting" an Hispanic church in southern New Hampshire and a second Chinese ministry in the Upper Valley.

Goffstown Harvest Christian Church began with seven people meeting in the pastor's living room and now leases about two-thirds of a Goffstown strip mall and has about 200 members. It has launched new churches in Vermont and Laconia and now eyes Maine and northern Canada as its future missionary field, the pastor said.

When Shiloh Christian Fellowship held its first service in McNeil's Barn on Manchester's West Side in 1998, 42 people came. The church outgrew its larger, leased quarters in a West Side mill and last summer bought the former St. Edmund's Roman Catholic church complex. The church seats 480 and it plans to open a Bible Institute. A Four-Square Gospel evangelical church moved into the mill space after Shiloh Christian Fellowship moved out last summer.

Grace Fellowship in Nashua has outgrown its 475-seat Main Street worship area and has a proposal before the city to build a 2,100-seat auditorium to hold Sunday services and host local performing arts groups. It would be the city's largest auditorium. The church owns several other properties.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.