Here’s a great read from Pastor Mark Driscoll as he talks about church size. What was surprising to me was how few true megachurches there really are in America. I had the opportunity to work at one while I was in Seminary and it was a surreal experience. What are your thoughts?
Some Thoughts on Church Size
There are three major variables necessary to understanding a church:
Theology: This is both what you believe and what is emphasized in the teaching and ministry of the church. This includes what topics are regarded as open- and closed-handed issues, respectively. This is where questions such as, “Do we lean Reformed or Arminian?” “Do we baptize babies or not?” “Are we charismatic or cessationist?” “Will we have female pastors or not?” “Do we believe in a literal hell or not?” are answered.
Ministry Philosophy: This is the set of values and practical decisions that determine how you do things. Will you be a missional church engaging culture? A fundamentalist church retreating from culture? A seeker church attracting families with programming? Have contemporary music with a band or traditional music with a choir? Be multi-service or multi-site? Preach through books of the Bible or do short topical series? Etc.
Size: Church size affects nearly every aspect of a church, as bigger churches are not simply larger versions of smaller churches but rather very different organizations. For this reason, sometimes two very large churches that differ in aspects of theology and ministry philosophy have a lot in common simply because of size.
Size affects the number of lines of communication, how an organization stacks or does not stack leadership, access to the senior leader and family, etc. Simply, church size does matter for how a church is run, much like a married couple who some years later find themselves with a dozen children cannot simply organize their life as they did with their first child—everything must change. For those wanting to learn more about the dynamics of church size, Tim Keller has a helpful paper, and Larry Osborne has a helpful book called Sticky Teams.
Also, in my book Confessions, I write the following:
No one is exactly sure how many non-Catholic Protestant churches there are in the United States but the general figures are somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 churches.[i] So, for purposes of this rough estimate I am assuming that there are 400,000 non-Catholic Protestant churches in the United States. I am also assuming that the reported attendance at these churches is accurate, something that is highly questionable as over-reporting of church attendance is estimated by some to be as high as fifty percent.[ii] Therefore, a rough estimate on the breakdown of weekly church attendance for adults and children in America breaks down as follows:
- Churches with 45 people or less = 100,000 churches or 25% of all churches
- Churches with 75 people or less = 200,000 churches or 50% of all churches
- Churches with 150 people or less = 300,000 churches or 75% of all churches
- Churches with 350 people or less = 380,000 churches or 95% of all churches
- Churches with 800 people or less = 392,000 churches or 98% of all churches
- Churches with 800 people or more = 8,000 churches or 2% of all churches
- Churches with 2000 people or more = 870 churches or 0.22% of all churches
- Churches with 3000 people or more = 425 churches or 0.11% of all churches
Summarily, George Barna says, “Four out of ten church-going adults (41%) go to churches with 100 or fewer adults while about one out of eight church-going adults (12%) can be found in churches of 1000 or more adults.[iii]
According to church expert Lyle Schaller, the two most comfortable church sizes are 45 people or less and 150 people or less.[iv] Subsequently, these are also likely the hardest size barriers a pastor has to push through. Practically, it seems that churches under 45 people are large enough to gather for worship and function as a church, but small enough for everyone to know each other and have a say in everything that happens. A congregation of 150 can usually gather in one service and exist as one community, yet have the resources to hire a pastor to care for all the people. These variables may help to explain why the average church in America is reportedly 89 people.[v]
Additionally, pushing through the 350 barrier is often very difficult because it usually requires that the church transition to multiple pastors, multiple services, and become multiple communities.
You can read the article in its entirety here: http://pastormark.tv/2011/11/10/some-thoughts-on-church-size