Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Implications of Church Size

The size of a church has an enormous impact on how it FUNCTIONS; such as how decisions are made, how it is governed, how ministries are evaluated, and what pastors and staff do.

Most people have a favorite size church. Unfortunately, many of these people will make moral judgments about their favorite size as being spiritually superior than other sized churches - and will declare it to be more “biblical” than others.

Very often, people will have expectations of their church, pastor, and staff, which can never be met. For instance, people who prefer a small church may get frustrated with the pastor of a larger church because he doesn’t seem as accessible. Or people who prefer a larger church, but attend a smaller church, may get frustrated because of the lack of quality in its programs.

This means a wise pastor may have to sometimes lovingly confront people who are not able to handle and live with their church’s current “size culture.” He might have to suggest to them that they are asking for and expecting the impossible from a church of our size and encourage them to find a place where they might be a better fit.

Here are some general trends that affect a church as it grows larger:


The larger the church the less all of its attenders have in common. There is more diversity in age, family status, educational level, income level, mixed ethnicity, etc. Larger churches are disproportionately more complex than their smaller counter-parts. They have multiple services, multiple ministries, multiple groups, multiple tracking systems, multiple staff, and eventually multiple congregations. Common ground and affinity is experienced in smaller groups within the larger body.


In a larger church more decision-making falls to the ministerial staff rather than to the entire congregation, or even to its lay-leaders. Yet, at the same time, more and more of the pastoral ministry gets carried out by the congregation and membership. Ministries such as hospital visitation, discipling, oversight of Christian growth and development, shepherding, and many others is carried out by lay-leaders rather than professional clergymen or full-time paid staff.

In contrast, in smaller churches policy is decided by “the many” (i.e., the congregation) and the work is carried out by “the few” (i.e., the hired staff).


People who prefer smaller churches are usually resistant to change. But those who prefer larger churches have an openness to change. Growing churches, by their very nature, are subject to constant and sudden changes.

Smaller churches do not change rapidly and have less turn-over in their membership because the individual members feel more powerful and influential, so they stay put.

The larger a church grows, by necessity, the more the decision-making responsibilities move away from the congregation to the full time leaders and staff. Why? There is simply too much going on for the congregation to keep up with. As that happens, decisions can be made without everyone signing on first. Changes come more rapidly in this environment.


As a church grows larger, the less available the senior pastor will be to conduct Chaplain-type work. He can no longer be everyone’s personal Chaplain. He will have to give himself over to more leadership responsibilities, such as vision-casting, developing strategies, and general oversight of the church.

In a smaller church the senior pastor is available at all times to everyone, for every need.


In smaller churches, classes and ministry groups can be larger because everyone can be cared for by the full-time ministry staff. But in a larger church, the internal groups and classes need to be smaller and smaller because the people are cared for more by group leaders, and lay pastors, rather than the paid staff. Thus, in a larger church, the more groups you have the better cared for are the people, and the faster the church grows!


The larger the church the more likely it will concentrate on doing a few things well, rather than trying to do too much.

Smaller churches are generalist in nature and feel the need to do everything. This comes from the power of the individual. i.e., If any member lets his or her wishes be known about launching a new initiative, or starting a new activity, the church will make every effort possible in order to please them. The larger church, on the other hand, will likely identify 3 or 4 things that are most important and will focus its energies and resources there, despite calls for other initiatives. Larger churches keep their main thing the main thing.


In a larger church the more distinctive and important the mission becomes to all the members of the church. The mission and vision is what unites them - not dress codes, hair styles, personal convictions, or agreement on every point of scripture. Unity comes from focusing on the mission of the church. The emphasis in a smaller church is on the “uniformity” of its members - that is, everyone should look alike, think alike, believe exactly alike, dress alike, and enjoy the same style of music.

The reason members in larger churches will put up with the constant changes taking place is because of the mission. They realize that the “mission of the church” is more important than the predictability of maintaining the status quo.