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October 31, 2011 / Richard Bass

Resources and Comments in Response to “Why Size Matters”

In “Why Size Matters” (the October 31, 2011 Alban Weekly, adapted from Inside the Large Congregation), Susan Beaumont highlights both the capacities and the challenges that come with a large congregational size.

Beaumont outlines five enhanced capacities of large churches: the capacity for excellence (offering relevance, quality, and choices to members); the effective use of technology (providing “higher energy” worship); the space for both anonymity and intimacy; the presence of diversity; and the opportunity to make a difference.

At the same time, Beaumont points to five challenges or limitations: communication problems; resistance to change; continual staff and leadership transitions; the difficulty of raising money to support growth initiatives; and a frequent lack of alignment, leading to a loss of strategic focus.

The author concludes by inviting readers to examine their own “presuppositions and assumptions about church size.” How have your assumptions about church size been affected by your story and experience in congregations—of whatever size?

What resources might enable you to reflect more fully on these questions? In addition to the items listed at the end of the article, please consider these items annotated in the Congregational Resource Guide: Size Transitions in Congregations; One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing out the Best in Any Size Church; and Reflecting with God: Connecting Faith and Daily Life in Small Groups.

What are your stories and ideas on this topic? And what resources do you suggest? We look forward to hearing from you.

7 Comments

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  1. Walt Peters / Nov 22 2011 6:45 am

    What do we mean by “large?” Obviously, mega-churches fit that description, but where’s the break point? Is a church like the one I serve (averaging about 200 in worship) a “large church?” Certainly compared to churches averaging 75 or 100 in worship, we’re “bigger” – but does that make us large? By the oft-used categories, we are a “program-sized” church, not a “corporate-sized” church (much less one of Lyle Schaller’s “ranches” or “independant nations.”) Further, few if any of our members would describe us as “large,” and in fact, many of them value us precisely because we are “not huge.” Yet many of both the advantages and limitations the article identifies do describe us. So I’m wondering if perhaps the advantages and limitations the Beaumont article outlines are not so much definitive of the “large church,” but are among the side-effects that are seen all along the spectrum of church size – possibilities and challenges that any congregation that is growing (or even wishing to grow) needs to address along the way.

  2. Susan Wilson / Nov 2 2011 10:52 pm

    I agree that it would be helpful to have a similar article about smaller churches. There are significant advantages and difficulties with being in a smaller church, many of which are actually quite similar to the larger church; but there are also many misconceptions as well. I think that our judicatories need to spend more resources (both financial and human) in supporting the work and ministry of smaller congregations. We are, it seems, more and more the norm while at the same time being closed for lack of viability.

    • Judith Gotwald / Nov 7 2011 7:04 am

      Your comments are dead on! Smaller churches are where cutting edge ministry is most likely to happen most effectively. They are located in the neighborhoods experiencing the most dramatic change and where the Gospel must be present. The budget standards applied to all churches are set by larger churches. Small churches are increasingly unable to meet them — but they can still exist and do ministry that larger churches can only address with very long arm’s length charitable programs. (“Look what we are doing for them” programs.) All of this is made all the more tragic by regional bodies being in financial need themselves and eying the resources of small churches as saving the day for them. Fact is — when you close doors you are shutting people out. That will affect the large church too; it just takes longer to notice. http://www.2x2virtualchurch.com addresses these problems from many viewpoints in a relatively new but ongoing forum.

  3. Justin Hildebrandt / Nov 1 2011 9:21 am

    Too often the size arguments up here in New England are around survivability. It breaks my heart as a pastor that much of that is to pay my salary. I’m relaunching one of our historic urban churches with a good amount of funding from our building sale. The idea of creating a self-sustaining congregation is always on my mind and is part of my denominational mandate. I see the nature of pastoral ministry dramatically shifting in the next 10 – 20 years. There will be far fewer pastors who derive their income solely from the local church. We’ll need to find ways to better support bi-vocational pastors.

    • Judith Gotwald / Nov 1 2011 2:13 pm

      New England is not alone. This is especially a problem when denominations are strapped for cash. Churches that CAN get by with their resources are suddenly deemed by outsiders as not viable with denominations making claims on congregational assets. Courts are being asked to sort this out and church bodies seem to be content to allow the courts to create their polity for them.

      Finding ways for congregations to stay viable is important. I suspect the answer lies in team ministries but I’m not sure the denominational church is ready for that yet. The one pastor/one congregation ministry structure is hard to abandon, but if the church is to remain as witness in small towns and neighborhoods, it may have to go.

  4. RogueMonk / Oct 31 2011 4:31 pm

    Would be great to see a similar examination of the mid and small church sizes!

  5. Judith Gotwald / Oct 31 2011 10:45 am

    Our congregation has made a mission of visiting churches. We visited our 33rd church yesterday, Reformation Sunday. It happened to be one of the largest church we have visited with about 180 in attendance — still far from what this author describes as having a staff that no longer fits around the same table. I doubt we will ever encounter a church of proportions she is describing.

    We have noticed a few things in the range of churches we have visited (from seven in worship to 200 — most below 50 in attendance). Larger churches are the least diverse. The larger the church the less likely anyone is to introduce themselves or ask us our names. (There is usually a bulletin invitation to sign the guest book.) We have also noticed that the larger the church, the more traditional the service and the more clergy-centric the church leadership. The percentage of activity per member is higher in small congregations. Only one of the larger churches we visited was using technology in the service. Several smaller ones were. Small churches may have less organ and little or no choir but many have quality worship that is quite innovative and can facilitate multicultural worship expression — an area many denominations have targeted for growth. Most churches, regardless of size, have a similar sense of mission and support and similar educational and mission offerings. Large churches have more “small groups.”

    Large churches may be, by some measure, the fastest growing, but it appears that most people belong to smaller churches. The challenge to the church as a whole is to find ways to serve smaller congregations who cannot compete for leadership with the compensation packages offered by larger congregations, but who have valuable assets, connections to community, and faithful mission-minded members.

    We chronicle some of our observations on our web site http://www.2x2virtualchurch.com. We also explore ideas to help small churches grow in their mission, recognizing that it is not their goal to be large but to witness and serve.

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