dynamics of different church sizes
When it comes to churches, there’s a sociology to the number of people and group dynamics. There’s much more going on than a generic spiritual gathering.
On numerous occasions, I’ve been asked for resources about how to manage the changes when a church changes sizes, or how to get a church to grow past a certain size. What I’ve found are a few books that address this topic, and some articles too. The books are:
- How to Break Growth Barriers: Capturing Overlooked Opportunities for Church Growth by Warren Bird and Carl F. George
- Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Gary L. McIntosh (2009)
- One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church by Gary L. McIntosh (1999)
- Overcoming Barriers to Church Growth: Proven Strategies for Taking Your Church to the Next Level by Michael Fletcher
- The Myth of the 200 Barrier: How to Lead through Transitional Growth by Kevin E Martin
- Size Transitions in Congregations edited by Beth Ann Gaede
- The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations by Alice Mann [cf. outline & review by Pastor Jenny]
- Also The Everychurch Guide to Growth: How Any Plateaued Church Can Grow (Thom Rainer, C. Peter Wagner, Elmer Towns) and Breakout Churches: Discover How to Make the Leap (Thom Rainer) by [ht: Andrew Cromwell]
There are certain church sizes that seem most common, as if a certain group settles into a certain size stability equilibrium. Here’s some estimates of those sizes:
- House Church= up to 40; Small Church=40-200; Medium-Sized Church= 200-450; Large Church= 400-800, Very Large Church [from Leadership and Church Size Dynamics by Tim Keller]
- … completely different “orders of being” … a church of less than 35 members a “cat” and a church of 100-175 a “garden,” and a church of 225-450 a “mansion.” [quoting Lyle Schaller, in this article]
- relational church= 15-200; managerial church= 200-400; organizational church= 400-800; centralized church= 800-1,500; decentralized church= 1,500+ [Taking Your Church to the Next Level, Gary L. McIntosh]
- Small Church= 15-200 ; Medium Church= 201-400; Large Church= 401+. [via Gary McIntosh’s Typology of Church Sizes (PDF), from One Size Doesn’t Fit All]
- Family-sized= less than 50; Pastoral-sized= 50-150; Program-sized= 150-350; Corporate= 350+. [via How to Minister Effectively in Family, Pastoral, Program, and Corporate Sized Churches; cf. church size theory by Arlin Rothauge]
- “Most churches generally face growth barriers when Sunday attendance approaches 65, 125, 250 or 500.” [via Nelson Searcy’s Break the next growth barrier]
And, the articles are:
- Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How Strategy Changes with Growth (PDF) by Dr. Tim Keller, Redeemer City to City; also in 2006 e-newsletter as Leadership and Church Size Dynamics.
- How to Minister Effectively in Family, Pastoral, Program, and Corporate Sized Churches by Roy M. Oswald, former Senior Consultant, Alban Institute, 1991.
- Barna Group Study, How Faith Varies by Church Size, via Ed Stetzer’s blog (Aug 2009): “The Barna Group released the findings of a new study that showed ‘congregational size is related to the nature of a congregation’s religious beliefs, religious behavior and demographic profile.’ Specifically the study showed ‘statistically significant differences between churches of 100 or fewer adult attenders and churches of 1000 or more adult attenders.'”
- Other resources about church size transitions at Alban Institute’s Congregational Resource Guide.
This FAQ from HIRR gives perspective on the whole: “The median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study. Notice that researchers measured the median church size — the point at which half the churches are smaller and half the churches are larger — rather than the average (186 attenders reported by the USCLS survey), which is larger due to the influence of very large churches.”
Closing thoughts: 2 areas where church size makes a difference is the leadership structure needed and a perceived “growth barrier.” While the term “barrier” may be misleading, it’s a term that’s commonly used in “church growth” circles. Church size is not a reliable indicator of healthy spirituality or lack thereof; it’s often more of a correlation with group dynamics and organizational structure. To say it more simply, church sizes are not good or bad. And, some people have a strong preference for one church size, and may need to migrate when a size transition happen.
 “Does a church’s size indicate anything about its spirituality or success?” (excerpt from “What People Ask About The Church” by Dale A. Robbins)
But there is a danger in using largeness as a standard to measure success. Size does not depend as much on spirituality as it may many other factors. … Most large churches claim that their size is a result of the ability to satisfactorily “minister” to the needs of a broad range of people. … While it is true that there are more large churches today than there were in the past, they still only make up a tiny percentage of the body of Christ… 90 percent of American churches have an attendance of somewhere below 200. The majority of churches, 55 percent, have an attendance of somewhere less than 100… only about 1 percent ever attain attendances of more than 700.
Other related articles (added as I find them & have time to add them here):
- Small Churches Struggle to Grow Because Of The People They Attract (George Barna)
- 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark (Carey Nieuwhof)
- 50% attend top 10% largest churches (from HIRR, 2007)
- Preferences and Church Size (Jonathan Shradar)
- Church Size Makes a Difference (Ed Vasicek)