Does Size Matter?

June 29th, 2013

At any gathering of clergy, you’ll hear talk of new programs, building projects or repairs, and the perennial struggle of getting people to give. But church size is the elephant in the room. Oh, you’ll hear about membership decline, outreach, and strategies for growth—but naming numbers, that’s where it gets scary.

The pressure is on to get more people through the door, more people involved, and more dollars in the plate. Pastors feel frustrated by simplistic “do this and people will come” campaigns. What worked at the megachurch across town isn’t likely to work in a completely different context, at least not without a hefty amount of adaptation. Sometimes, despite every effort to reach out and draw in, the results leave something to be desired. We feel judged, rated, or ranked, based on the number of cars that fill the parking lot on Sunday mornings.  It’s understandable that we want to downplay matters of size in favor of intangibles like spiritual maturity and a heart for mission.

Does size really matter? Sometimes not. Churches of any size can serve their communities in significant ways, and an inspired sermon is powerful, whether it is heard by fifty people or five hundred. But the challenges experienced by a tall-steeple church of one thousand members are very different from the challenges experienced by a rural congregation of just a few families. Economies of scale demand a very different approach to discipleship, outreach, fellowship, and even the Sunday morning schedule.

There are unique needs and considerations for churches of various sizes, and also a lot we can learn from one another. In the previous issue of Circuit Rider (May/June/July), Deech Kirk, of the Center on Youth Ministry Training, pointed out how small, family-based churches are more likely to produce adults who actively participate in church than are big churches with dynamic youth ministries. From that, large youth programs learn the benefit of intergenerational relationships for faith formation.

In this issue, read how a large church puts its focus on discipleship rather than membership, how a small church eased the trauma of pastoral transition with a unique leadership model, and much more. Learning from each other, we can enhance our ministries in our own contexts, and become a more faithful church, whether worship is a gathering of two or two thousand.

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