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US Protestant churches endured a difficult 2020, including starting the year with fewer congregations.

In 2019, approximately 3,000 Protestant churches were started in the US, but 4,500 Protestant churches closed, according to estimates from Nashville-based Lifeway Research.

The evangelical research organization analyzed congregational information from 34 denominations and groups representing 60 percent of US Protestant churches to arrive at the church plant and closure numbers for 2019.

The current closure gap indicates a shift from Lifeway Research’s previous analysis. For 2014, an estimated 4,000 Protestant churches were planted, while 3,700 closed in a year.

“Over the last decade, most denominations have increased the attention they are giving to revive existing congregations that are struggling,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “This has been more than a fad. This has been a response to a real, growing need to revitalize unhealthy congregations.”

Church planting experts say the decline in new churches was expected but is still troubling.

“While planting a church is still one of the most exciting things a pastor can do, over the past few years, I’ve noticed a growing hesitancy to plant, which is why these numbers don’t surprise me,” said Daniel Im, co-author of Planting Missional Churches and lead pastor of Beulah Alliance Church in Edmonton, Alberta. “Starting a church from scratch is not as it used to be, especially with the rise in Boomer pastors retiring and needing to find a successor.”

For Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, the numbers provide a clarifying reminder …

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