Church Size – Is bigger better?

Much of what has been examined in previous posts in areas such as the Lord’s Table, congregational interaction (in the works), and Scripture memorization, brings with it implementation issues at some point for most churches. I am not referring here to the unique details related to each specific area, but to common issues. Globally, delivery issues more often than not translate into the availability of financial and time resources. Combined with this are frequently more daunting issues of scalability, if growth is a large part of the church agenda (which almost always seems to be the case today), or if the church is already quite large.

At present, churches seem to fall into roughly three groups: first, large to mega churches (let’s put this at 500+, but often several thousand); second, normal churches aspiring to grow substantially over time as a stated goal (150-400+); and third, small stable assemblies, including house or cell churches (10-15 to 125+), often with few growth aspirations other than as a side effect of evangelism. These sizes are just guess-timates, but they give us benchmark categories from which to work, and sliding them somewhat would make little difference to the discussion. I would also note that a comment on the previous post on church size suggested the senario of a believer abstaining from group worship and living as an assembly of one. That model is addressed in the associated reply.

The first group is very large organizationally. I have little experience there, but they appear to have substantive sub-congregation programs in place that may function as cell churches for the purpose of some activities. Nonetheless, the ability to deliver congregation wide coverage of the basics is difficult, and fragmentation is hard to avoid. Further, they are often focused on, or sustained by, continued growth. Personally I can not see intimate personal relationship on a global basis in this scenario. Possibly a reader with positive experience could explain if and how it can work.

The second group is often focused upon growth as a solution to delivering more or better content. Increased size is seen as providing increased resources with which to concentrate on better quality programs. Better may have many definitions (music, or worship, or missions, or others) but always requires more resources, mostly financial. Certainly there is a minimal resource requirement to provide a basic, encouraging and Biblical assembly. However, the proposal that growth and its results will increase effectiveness is an illusion. Since many who adopt this philosophy are using a business model as a guide, it is disappointing that they do not see the limitations of the approach in this framework. It is potentially a treadmill of growth and demand, with no satisfying or stable end. For business, this model often has benefits and yields profits. For the Lord’s people, assembled for Him, this model follows a road to worldly concerns. The growth focus is always couched in talk about the faith and so on, but it is clearly a business model that is in use. Fundamentally, the Lord’s model for performance is not that of a business based in the world.

The third group (a very small minority) are modeled more on the cell church structure. This may not make them tiny, but probably limits them to just over 100 practically. Once that threshold is passed, they would likely have to divide to continue as two small units. This, in fact, is often the approach adopted by these groups. In this environment there is little or no concern with growth, though it is not avoided proactively. Growth in this model is a side effect. Since they are not forward looking in a growth sense, the focus tends to rest on foundational faith and obedience therein (including sharing the Gospel). This characterization assumes that they are not struggling with growth to the next size. If that is the case, then they face the same issues as the second group, but with the likelyhood of greater discouragement.

One argument for church growth is that it is synonymous with evangelism and growing the body of believers. There is no question that we are commanded to evangelize, and thereby facilitate growth of the body. That this is synonymous with church growth is, I feel, a complete miss-representation of the intent. Church growth may occur with the sharing of the Gospel. In fact, it is even quite likely. However, this is not the goal and must not be even on the horizon. If it is, then it is the organization that is the focus of growth, with the body of believers as a side issue. That is not evangelism. Not doubt, as with all events, the Lord can and will use all senarios to his advantage, but that does not change our challenges.

It might appear that a bleak picture is being painted. Not so! The point is that church growth alone is not a legitimate goal, and can make congregational life difficult. Those who embark upon it must face those realities, both in presentation and in ongoing evaluation. Congregational growth, however, is a legitimate side effect.

In terms of overall size, there are surely some large assemblies that bring all congregants together in true fellowship and joyous worship. As size increases, however, this becomes exponentially more difficult, and eventually impossible, from my present viewpoint.

The support of the Body of Believers and the sharing of the Gospel by an assembly will be used by the Lord to call the Faithful to Himself. That is the focus. We assemble, pray, worship, share the Word, and so on, in simple obedience. Again, that is the focus. The size of some congregations may increase, but that is wonderful gift from the Lord and not the goal. Let us remain focused upon fellowship in our Lord and the Word.

Next -> Church Size – But what about ‘essential’ programs?

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