Size Matters

One of the most interesting things to study as a leader in a growing church is how we are impacted by the changing size of the church. A helpful resource along these lines has been Tim Keller’s paper, “Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How Strategy Changes with Growth.”

Keller makes a few important observations:

  • Every church has a culture that goes with its size and which must be accepted. Most people tend to prefer a certain size culture, and unfortunately, many give their favorite size culture a moral status and treat other size categories as spiritually and morally inferior.
  • There is no “best size” for a church. Each size presents great difficulties and also many opportunities for ministry that churches of other sizes cannot undertake (at least not as well). Only together can churches of all sizes be all that Christ wants the church to be.
  • One of the most common reasons for pastoral leadership mistakes is blindness to the significance of church size. Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and what ministers, staff, and lay leaders do… We tend to think of the chief differences between churches mainly in denominational or theological terms, but that underestimates the impact of size on how a church operates…A large church is not simply a bigger version of a small church. The difference in communication, community formation, and decision-making processes are so great that the leadership skills required in each are of almost completely different orders.

The rest of the article explains some of the realities of different sized churches as well as the transitions that have to be made as churches grow. It’s a fascinating read, especially if (like me) you are interested in organizational dynamics.

What’s your experience? What changes have you experienced in growing churches? Were the results good or bad?

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  1. #1 by Dale on June 25, 2010 - 9:59 am

    Pastor Luke,

    Incredibly interesting topic. While living in CA, I witnessed a church grow from a few hundred people to a few thousand, in 5 short years. Obviously that kind of rapid growth changes the culture of the church, and kept the leadership scrambling to organize and plan. To answer your question re: good and bad:

    I noticed for some, a certain “size” arrogance became prevalent in their thinking. “Our church must be better, because look how God is blessing it. However, bigger isn’t always better.

    The growth of the church impacted the ability for the staff and lay leaders to communicate with the congregation. What we discovered, was that one great way to keep a “small church” feel in a growing church, and for the congregation to have access to leadership on a daily basis, was to utilize the use of Social Media. Sites like Facebook and updates from Twitter were a great way for the congregation to stay connected, not only to each other, but also to hear from their pastors and leaders.

    Thanks for posting the article from Keller and for giving us your thoughts on the topic.

  2. #2 by Jeffery on June 25, 2010 - 2:35 pm

    Excellent authenticity by Pastor Keller; this is the fruit of a wise leader interested in continuing to bear fruit . . .

    And then there are “Scotish Revivals”: where the church is growing . . . smaller . . . [sorry, old Presbyterian joke]

  3. #3 by Matthew Formica on June 26, 2010 - 6:11 am

    I agree with the article. :-) One thing I’ve noticed though that I’ve never seen megachurches comment on is the community gap that can arise in really big churches between all 5,000 strong and the 12-person community group. I wish churches that size developed more opportunities for people to connect with an extended set of people in a more intimate way than on Sundays – the 200-person picnic/potluck/concept is needed in my view.

  4. #4 by lukesimmons on July 4, 2010 - 5:19 am

    @Dale: I agree that it’s important not to have a “bigger is necessarily better” mentality. Very American, but not always true.

    @Matthew: Great point. I think even in a church like ours, this “mid-size” connection point is lacking, and definitely in bigger churches.

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