Big & Small (Part 2)

ChurchThis is the second installment in my series on church size dynamics. Today’s post is dedicated to categorizing specific size types. This isn’t in an effort to elevate any size type, but to better understand how churches function so that we can be a blessing to our people and our community. These size types are based on the work of a number of sources but most notably that of Tim Keller.

1.            The Very Small Church: Up to 40
This could be an urban, house church or a rural, country church. It is essentially an extended small group that includes two or three dominant families. The leader is usually a layperson since the church’s limited resources prohibits a full-time pastor. Typically, this size church has entrenched relationships and entrenched behaviors.

2.            The Small Church: 40 to 200
Approximately 80% of all churches in the country fit in this range. Serving these churches are solo pastors whose preaching is not nearly as important as their caregiving. They serve as the primary shepherd and do most of the ministry work. Change is gradual in these churches because the entire body slowly processes choices until consensus is found.

3.            The Medium Church: 200 to 400
While it is still possible to know the faces of everyone in the medium church, at this size it isn’t possible to know everyone. Now lay leadership shifts from overseeing the pastor and becomes more responsible for the work of ministry. The medium church is organized around programs more than around a pastor.

4.            The Large Church: 400 to 1000
As the church grows larger, the circle of belonging gets smaller. In a small church, everyone knows everyone. In a large church, a person can only know those they serve with and study with. To accomplish community the church now champions involvement in small groups. Flush with people and resources, the large church becomes an influencer in the community.

5.            The Very Large Church: 1000 and above
As a church crests the 1000 person mark its influence grows. Intent on leveraging the capacity that God has brought, this size church is focused on impacting far-flung places. There is a global emphasis at this point. Surprisingly, the very large church is open to rapid change as it seeks to maximize on opportunity.

Tim Keller states, “Generally, in a small church policy is decided by many and ministry is done by a few, while in the large church ministry is done by many and policy is decided by a few.” Of course, this summation is simplistic, but I believe accurate. The biggest difference between the smallest and the largest churches is where people’s energies are spent.

I have pastored in, and through, all of these stages, and consider myself blessed to have experienced each of them. In every size type I have enjoyed the benefits and struggled with the challenges, and in every type, I have realized that God does not change, and He is sufficient for our needs. Personally, I think I am best suited to serving in the situation I now find myself in. I am most blessed, but then again, I was blessed when I pastored the tiny North Vernon Baptist Church in Indiana.

Size changes how we do church together. It doesn’t change what we are together. Big and small, we are the body of Christ.

4 thoughts on “Big & Small (Part 2)

    • Lynn, how nice to hear from you. I still have my inaugural bulletin from NVBC on my office wall. With hindsight, I realize that I learned more than I taught. Blessed indeed. Send my love to everyone!

  1. I have to disagree with Keller..respect him greatly. But I have been in many size churches and don’t believe in generalizations. I have been in small churches where many participate in ministry and know that in big churches many do not participate in ministry. I believe a church is who it is not because of size but because of allowing the Spirit of God to move and respect for the word of God. Appreciate your blogs Eugene. Thanks for taking your time to make us think.

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