Fellowship is a large church. We have many people, not a few. We have a staff, not a pastor. We have a campus, not a building. We are a large church. We are not the largest church, but for many of our members, we are the largest church they have ever attended. This change from small to large is quite the adjustment. There are a multitude of expectations that need to change and usually these changes create stress because they are not anticipated or explained. I aim to change this. In a series of posts I am going to reflect upon a piece Keller wrote on the subject of growth dynamics so that we can all experience loving community together.
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. The difference between how churches of 100 and 1,000 function may be much greater than the difference between a Presbyterian and a Baptist church of the same size. The staff person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is in many ways making a far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another.
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.
Problems arise when people, unfamiliar with these dynamics, assume that their past experiences are transferable. The individual from a small church struggles with dismay when they find that lead pastor is not immediately available. They can even take offence when another staff person addresses their need. Of course no one individual can shoulder all of the pastoral responsibilities of a sizeable church—they would be overwhelmed. Moreover, a dedicated staff person with less visibility than the lead guy is likely to be more skilled at giving care and more available than the lead pastor. This arrangement is different, but not inferior.
Once again, Keller addresses our assumptions,:
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. They may insist that the only biblical way to do church is to practice a certain size culture despite the fact that the congregation they attend is much too big or too small to fit that culture.
As a large church, we have our challenges. In an effort to lead and disciple a large body we have researched and implemented organizational systems. These processes help, but the danger is that the church can become overly strategic and results-oriented. We know this, and are constantly working to avoid these dangers.
Small churches also have their challenges. There are fewer people, with correspondingly fewer talents, with little money, and even less time to do the work of ministry. Furthermore, the small numbers results in an imbalance of power where an individual can wield unmatched influence to the detriment of the body.
There is no best size for a church. Each size has benefits and challenges. Both types are called to serve Christ and impact many with the gospel. We are a big church—this is God’s doing—and we will do all we can to honor Him.