Does Church Size Matter?

Last week, a blog I frequent, Near Emmaus, had a good discussion going in one of their posts – Random thought about the size of churches…

Actually, it led to 56 comments (of which I came in late, and so am the last commenter).

The questions posed by Mark Stevens were: If the church is too large for a minister to not know the name of every person in the congregation is it possible the church has grown too large? Has the minister removed himself from the ability to be a faithful pastor?

Below you will find the gist of my thoughts in response to these questions:

1) I believe you cannot shepherd those you do not know. Shepherds know their sheep, sheep know their shepherds.

2) I think that the normative model set-up in the New Testament is that of a plurality of elders. And, with that said, the elders are the shepherds. I have emphasised amongst our church that we will not appoint someone into eldership if they are not ready to shepherd in some manner. But many churches function in the model that the pastor-shepherd and the elders are different groups. The elders manage, the pastor cares. I find that hard to establish, at least from the conceptual seed in the New Testament.

So if we appoint elders, they need to be challenged to be shepherds. If they are not shepherding in some form and fashion, they probably should be released from eldership (though that wouldn’t be a fun one).

And, as a side note, I am also not up for establishing plurality of elders just because it is the normative model in the New Testament. At this point, I am the only elder-shepherd in our local church. We need more time for people to rise up as shepherds.

3) Because of what I said in #2, I believe having a larger congregation is not inherently evil. If you have 200-300 people, and you also have a handful of elder-shepherds, I don’t think it is out of the question. But the shepherds still need to know the sheep (which includes getting to know their name). And even if you don’t know everyone’s name, it is good to champion the concerted effort that all sheep have the involvement of at least one shepherd.

4) I used to be quite anti-big church. I’ve grown up a bit from that perspective (I hope). I would still prefer a smaller local church. But I don’t believe it is inherently bad to be big. But what I do find is that, the larger we become (at least in the west), the more we might move into managing rather than shepherding. All shepherding will involve some managing at some point. But that is not the essence of shepherding. But, big does not have to head down the management path, nor the lack of purposed and personal interaction amongst shepherds and sheep, as I can testify from my brothers and sisters in China. Megachurches are to be found in the east, but they function a lot differently than western megachurches.

5) I think ultimately we need a change in perspective – we have to move away from building upwards and start building outwards. This is the model of Acts, the only practical guide to ‘church growth’ we find in the New Testament.


8 thoughts on “Does Church Size Matter?

  1. (remember that, even in the US, the average congregation is under 100)

    This surprises me. I’d always assumed the average US congregation would be ~300 or more. <100 seems remarkably low. Even the average Christadelphian congregation is ~100 in my country.

  2. Dave –

    There are two ways to look at it, which you can find great statistics in this article.

    When taking a survey of all churches in North America, the mean (or ‘average’) church does have a size of 184. But the median of these numbers is that half of the churches in North America have 75 or less members.

    So it depends on how you look at it. Still the numbers are quite lower from both angles. People don’t realise it because of what we ‘normally’ might see on tv.

  3. Pingback: The Average Church Size in America | The Prodigal Thought

  4. Thanks, I’m reading that other article now, and it’s very interesting.

    Your observations about shepherding are excellent, and touch a chord with me. When I lived in Western Australia, I belonged to a Christadelphian ecclesia with a congregation of 300. I was one of the pastors, and also served on a number of committees (e.g. Youth Group).

    I spent about 7 years at that ecclesia before moving on to a smaller one, and by the time I left, I still didn’t know everyone in the congregation! There were people I’d never even spoken to and families whose names I did not know, which made me feel quite guilty.

    By contrast, the smaller ecclesia had a congregation of <100 and a much better work ethic because nobody could afford to assume that "someone else will do it" since we had fewer people with the necessary skills and abilities. It was a much more intimate setting and the ecclesia felt more like a large family, so shepherding was easier to manage.

  5. Dave –

    I do understand. Our church now has about 60+/- adults and am starting to think we are outgrowing ourselves. My encouragement to our people is that the shepherds not just know the sheep, but that the sheep know each other as well. I don’t expect everyone to know everyone intimately. That’s not even possible for me. But knowing name is a good start towards creating family.

  6. I appreciate the article and the comments above. I am the senior pastor in Virginia of an appx. 80 member church. My wife co-pastors with me. We have a very intimate family like congregation and we know everyone’s name. There is however a constant tension to grow large or else we are not successful. I know the church is suppose to be evangelistic and we are reaching out to our community.

    So I would conclude by stating that I prefer a smaller church and several people came to us because of our smaller size. I believe we can grow to big to be effective some key areas and we should plant new churches when we reach certain thresholds…


    Pastor C

  7. I wonder if much thought has been given to the fact that “disharmony within a church”; our lack of being able to “get along with one another”; not manifesting “The Fruit Of The Spirit”; might be the main reason The Church in the U.S. has so many small congregations? I also find that most church members only want their congregations to grow IF that growth comes by adding new people who “think like they think”; have the “same preferences they have” in dress, music, style of preaching, scriptural translation used, etc.
    These are simply some observations I’ve made, and some conclusions I’ve made, after spending over 45 years in the full-time preaching ministry. And, my experience has come from pastoring churches from 125 to 5,000 in size. Just some thoughts, for what they’re worth. Thank you for your facts about The Church in our nation, and the thought provoking comments. God bless you!

  8. A cross-sectional and longitudinal research revealed that although churches of medium size (501–1000 attendees) may be more successful in attracting and retaining believers more committed to their religion and positive about their congregation, they are no better or worse than smaller or larger churches in fostering religious commitment or building relationships among the congregants. Furthermore, larger churches are more effective than smaller ones in preserving the “vertical” aspect of faith maturity. They are, however, less effective in fostering a sense of bonding among attendees. This piece of research was published in

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