Because Size Matters

That’s right fellas – we all knew that anyway didn’t we…

I was pondering yesterday what the ideal size would be for a church.

My raw thoughts:

If there are a couple of thousand of you then you can do some incredible stuff with the resources you have. You can run quality programs, administrate well and deliver services at a level that a medium sized church just can’t compete with. You may struggle for a sense of community when you gather, but then ‘small groups’ may resolve this. Your gatherings have the potential to be very attractive and for those in the saucer you may have the most appeal by far. Maybe ‘huge’ is the key?

If there are 50 or 60 of you then you can all know each other to some degree and retain a sense of family, but you also have enough resources to do some things well. You can’t deliver what the megachurch can, but you know that and you wouldn’t choose to try and emulate them. You can have a very robust community if you are content to operate at that size and don’t struggle with ‘congregation envy’.

If there are 4-14 of you then you have a different animal again. You don’t need any kind of public facility nor do you need to meet at the same time each week. You can’t do many of the things normally considered to be ‘church’ in larger gatherings, but you can develop the feeling of being an extended family very well. You can flex easily, adapt to circumstances and maximise communal interaction.

Perhaps the only things that disturbs me is when a church sets out to be what its not. The ‘say g’day to the person next to you’ thing in large churches as a way of ‘building community’ only seems to highlight what is absent in a Sunday service, while watching a bunch of 50 elderly people try to emulate Hillsong is equally cringeworthy. I’m not sure what the equivalents are in a small gathering – maybe having a preacher speaking to 10 people could looks pretty dopey. (I have heard of a house church that set up the sound system, chairs in rows, data projector etc all in a lounge room… that’s different 🙂 )

So is there a size at which church functions optimally?

Or is it just a case of it being great that we have diversity because then people can slot into the community where they feel most at home?

The reason I ask is because it seems that our mission is almost always to grow bigger and by that I mean 50-100-200-500-1000 etc. I am yet to find a church that consciously says we want to grow and develop, but 50 is our max or 100 is our max before we plant/multiply or whether you call it.

Its partly why church planting has been such a lame duck in our own denomination – because no one is ever ‘ready’ to part with people to start anew.

6 thoughts on “Because Size Matters

  1. Mate this is exactly the issue for us – and we feel that the answer in terms of the church’s missional context is at the lower end of the spectrum. Any size of church can be a “love-in”, but only one where the members are living their lives together in the context of a watching community can be a “love-out”

  2. Our church in Philadelphia, PA is a cell based church plant that is about 11 years old. We’re very intentional about keeping our congregations and cells at certain levels numerically. One of the things that we are constantly wondering is where the next 100 people will come from (and where we’ll put them).

    Here are a few things that help…

    1) We don’t own a building. We rent space so that we are not tied to a location indefinately. We’re also never tempted to spend money on a building project over the mission.

    2) We begin the dialogue about hiving off a new congregation early. Four years ago, our congregation was approaching about 200 or so. We sent off 75 people to form a congregation in a different part of the city. This congregation has thrived – it won’t be long before they are sending off 75 to do the same. The 125 left had room to grow. That congregation is already talking about where the next two congregations will get planted.

    3) Since we are cell based, we’re fairly intentional about the number of people in a cell. We like to operate in circles of 10…When they get to about 16, we multiply. Again, we are afford room to grow.

    It is a difficult process at times. Cells get comfortable with their people – Jesus is present – and then we go and say, it’s time to multiply and go through the awkwardness of newness again. Some people don’t like it. But’s it’s usually good. Congregations fall into a rhythm. Good things are happening. And then we go and say, these 75 people are going to begin meeting together over there. That 75 people often includes a good number of leaders, and those left are faced with having to step up in order for the mission to continue. There have been hick-ups along the way, but so far, so good.

    It’s all a fascinating process.

    To read more about us, visit…

    The Circle of Hope website

    “A Circle of Hope”, the Circle of Hope book project

  3. Good point steve. I have the advantage of growing up in a church that grew from 100 to 250 in a small town, and now attend one of the bigger churches in aust. I think the best size for any church is the size that enables it to best suit their community. Both churches that i have attended do very similar community work, in similar structure, but proportionate to the size of the church.

  4. I am building a programme for people with disabilities that is based around a hub of clients who relate to a coordinator and we have set a dollar figure that any one coordinator is able to effectively manage. Because the hub can never grow beyond a certain size the personal nature of the hub is maintained. As the programme grows, new hubs are formed.

    I believe this is an achievable model for church growth. The size may be determined by the size of the meeting place or some other rationale, but there needs to be a clear and deliberate understanding that when a certain size is reached a new hub is established. This allows for growth, but maintains the personal nature of the group.

    How do you determine what the maximum size of the hub is? My experience with church life is that once a church is over about 100 people you have to introduce formal management structures that immediately erode some important principles of body life.

    The principle in my opinion is based on the headship of Christ. Once the group is too big to sit down together to ask the question “what would Christ have us do in this situation?” and instead leaves that process to another person or group of persons, the group has got too big.

  5. Thanks for this post Hamo. I question the idea that large churches have more resources to spare for activities. The church I attend has about 600 members, which is large for the UK, but the vast majority of it’s energy is spent in looking after itself. Ben Witheringtons blog had an excellent post which touched on this in passing. The rest of this comment is his, not mine!

    Well of course part of the problem is the very nature of the modern and western church. It is all too often narcissistic and self-serving to the core. It spends the vast majority of its budget on itself– its own buildings, its own clergy, its own self-help and nurture programs. The church has ceased almost altogether to be what it was at its inception– an evangelistic movement, that also did some nurture and training of converts. Instead we are nurture institutions that might have a missions committee. Talk about placing the emphasis on the wrong syllable as the culture becomes increasing less Biblical.

  6. As someone who’s done lots of parachurch stuff, I have a higher view of small churches than large ones, because the small ones often have people who care about the mission in their local area, rather than “the city is our parish” inclination of the larger ones.

    But these days I tend to think don’t even worry about what Sunday looks like. Focus on the mission, which is mostly outside the buildings and Sundays. Make use of what & who you’ve got.

    I like the idea of multiplication. When the time comes to divide, it’s always hard. And the sad thing is that in most of my experience, the church is in decline, so multiplication is something we don’t have to worry about, and most of the “phenomenal growth” we hear about, even in the context of multiplication, is at least partly at the expense of somewhere else.

    I’ve been in a service where the preacher stood at a pulpit at preached to eight of us, including four very bored-looking kids.

    3½ years ago, having hardly been a leader of anything before, I threw myself into a parachurch ministry so I could help it multiply rather than just grow larger.

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