Growth Principle

Growth Principle
By Farris Pouder

The 80% Rule

Kennon Callahan says that most churches in cities and towns are comfortably filled at 80%, and open country churches at 50-70%. Bill Easum says that when a church reaches 80% of its capacity, it is time to start planning to enlarge the space to allow for continued growth. After seeing the powerful limiting work of the comfort zone in church after church, I talk about “The 80% Rule”. The 80% Rule is an invisible but powerful presence that works like the law of gravity. No one will announce “I’m not coming back because you are more than 80% full!” No one will particularly notice that a space is 80% full. The personal sense of space will be more subtle, insinuating itself into the sub-conscious, operating like an invisible flip-switch that comes into play when the mind is processing data related to the decision as to whether or not one should attend worship on any given day. The 10-year vital statistics profiles of 53 congregations in Southwest Texas Annual Conference is convincing evidence of the authority and power of the 80% Rule.

The 80% Rule applies to parking, sanctuary, Sunday School and nursery space.

Off-Street Paved and Striped Parking

Using the 80% Rule as a plumb line, assume that a church will not sustain growth beyond using 80% of its parking space.

The first question is “How many persons attend your largest service?” If Sunday school and worship occur at the same hour, count the total number at that hour.

The second question is: “What is the average number of people per car? Please count and average.” The Office of Research at the National Division, Board of Global Ministries, reports that a national average of 1.78 persons come per car. Common sense further tells us that half of the cars will have more than two persons, and half will have less than two persons, so a range of 1.5 to 2.5 persons per car would not be unusual. To be more accurate for the local church in question, someone should stand in the parking area(s) for three Sundays and count the number of persons that come by car and tabulate an average per car number for the church. An accurate “average” number who come per car and the average attendance at the largest service, will provide a more accurate figure of how many parking spaces are used to accommodate current attendance.

The next question is: “How many paved and striped off-street parking spaces do you have available?” With that number in hand, the church can figure how many spaces are at the sustainable 80% level.

The last question in this category is “Do you designate 10% of your parking spaces for ‘Guest Parking’?”


Many churches count curb-side parking. Curb-side parking traditionally used by churches may not be that secure since the city owns those spaces.

Churches also may count available parking spaces in a commercial establishment across the street. One church in St. Louis counted 64 spaces in a parochial school parking lot. The parochial parking space had a hurricane fence surrounding it and there were two steel gates, each with padlocks dangling. This church’s 64 parking spaces were at risk. At the least, church leaders should have face-to-face conversations with the leaders of the parochial school to have more assurance about the space to serve their worshipping congregations.

In a fast-growing Central Texas town a congregation was counting 40 spaces across the street at a commercial location that was closed. What might happen if a business located there and planned to be open on Sunday?

A church in suburban Austin, Texas was 40 parking spaces short of serving their current average worship attendance and only had space to add 14 new paved and striped parking spaces. After some discussion, it was apparent that there was space for 40 new parking spaces, but it was covered by beautiful carpet grass and flowering bushes. That church must ponder whether and how to handle the clash between aesthetics and evangelism. Planter boxes and well-placed flowering trees, with porous paving blocks that would allow grass to grow in the openings, and 12 inch concrete walkways that will be user-friendly with women’s shoes, would allow for the church to opt for evangelism with a nod to aesthetics.

If the recommended additions to parking space is figured merely to accommodate the current level of participation, check to see if there is space in the sanctuary to grow before the attendance reaches the 80% comfort level. If so, divide the number of seats by the average number of persons who come per car, and recommend enough new parking spaces to allow for growth in worship attendance up to the 80% level.

”Growth Principle”. By Farris Pouder.