Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Largest Congregation Led By a Woman?

The Religious Research Association, a fine organization of denominational datawonks (of which I am a member), had an interesting exchange recently trying to find the largest mainline congregation headed by a woman pastor. The results (so far):

Rev. Jo Gayle Hudson, Cathedral of Hope, in Dallas, has an attendance of 1500+ and membership of 4500+. This is now a United Church of Christ congregation, but began as a Metropolitan Community Church. Indeed, it was probably the leading MCC congregation. This also explains how there is a UCC – that is, Congregationalist – congregation with the very un-Congregationalist name of "Cathedral." The MCC, a homosexual-oriented Pentecostal denomination, is not mainline, but the UCC is.

The next largest woman-led UCC congregation (the largest with a direct Congregationalist history) is Community Church UCC, Vero Beach, FL, led by Rev. Casey Garrett Baggott. It has a worship attendance of 1612 and membership of 2080.

In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, The Rev. Deanna M Wildermuth is Senior Pastor of Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, ND with a reported baptized membership of 4,781 and average attendance of 907.

In the Presbyterian Church (USA), my denomination, the largest church with a senior solo pastor is First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, IL. This church had 1,762 members and an average worship attendance of 478. In addition, First Presbyterian Church in Boulder,CO, with 2,204 in membership and 1,614 in attendance, has a female co-pastor.

A Southern Baptist added that, though the SBC is not mainline and is nearly universally opposed to calling women as senior pastors, First Baptist in Decatur, Georgia recently called Julie Pennington-Russell as senior pastor. Last year the church reported 2,671 members with 483 in average worship attendance.

What of the Episcopalians, America's ruling class denomination of old? I find it amusing that the Episcopal entry in this parlor game did not count membership size, but used a different scale:
"I DOUBT THAT THEY ARE LARGER, BUT ST JAMES IN NYC IS PROBABLY THE SECOND RICHEST (NEXT TO TRINITY .WALL STREET). IT HAS A WOMAN RECTOR."

7 comments:

Quotidian Grace said...

This is really interesting, Beau. Thanks for sharing this. I don't remember seeing these statistics on several denominations in one place before.

Matt Ferguson said...

I am not opposed to women being ordained as pastors and serving God as called and gifted to do so. My wife is an elder and one of the best I have ever worked alongside. With that said, the one thing I noticed when reading your stats is how each of those chruches mentioned have a terrible membership to attendance ratio. I do not know why this is but I wonder if those churches would all consider themselves progressive in theology because progressive churches tend to have lower membership to attendance ratio. Matt Ferguson, Hillsboro, IL

Anonymous said...

"In the Presbyterian Church (USA), my denomination, the largest church with a senior solo pastor is First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, IL. This church had 1,762 members and an average worship attendance of 478. In addition, First Presbyterian Church in Boulder,CO, with 2,204 in membership and 1,614 in attendance, has a female co-pastor."

I'm confused. I went to the FPC Boulder web site, and no co-pastor, female or male, is listed. Can someone clear this up for me? Thank you.
Clay Brown
Mooresville, NC

Sheldon said...

If they have a female co-pastor at FPC Boulder, this is news indeed. This is an interesting piece, Beau. I regret that you named everyone but the Presbyterians. Let the world know that one of our wonderful pastors - and a major voice in Theology and Worship's new video on the Trinity - is Christine Chakoian of First Church Lake Forest.

Sheldon Sorge
The Louisville Institute

Gruntled said...

Thank you, Sheldon, for naming our Presbyterian leader, Christine Chakoian. And thank you, Clay, for sending me to check. It turns out the First Presbyterian, Boulder, made a typo in their annual report to the denomination, listing one of their women associates with the code that means "senior pastor."

Matt, most mainline churches have pretty bad member-to-attender ratios. I don't know if these congregations are worse, but I will ask the RRX.

Peter Barnes said...

Someone emailed me about your blog which reported First Presbyterian Church of Bouder, CO has a female co-pastor. I was intrigued, since I've been the senior pastor of the church for the past 15 years. While we do have a female associate pastor, and a fine one at that, we don't have any co-pastor, female or otherwise. I'm not sure where you got your information, but your sources are wrong. Perhaps better research will avoid such mistakes.

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