Which Church Size Is the Best Size?

by Dr. Mark J. Key

There are some interesting changes taking place among churches across the country relative to size. In "The Congregational Life Survey" of 300,000 worshipers from 2,200 churches all over America, the following discoveries were made:

  1. Fifty percent of all congregations — the smallest ones — have only eleven percent of the total number of worshipers in a given week.
  2. Ten percent of U.S. congregations — the largest ones — draw fifty percent of all worshipers each week.

The study further noted some of the challenges facing smaller churches:

  1. Decline in funding and financial resources.
  2. Supply of clergy.
  3. Christian education resources.

I would add to that list some other challenges:

  1. People to do programming.
  2. Resistance to change.
  3. Difficulty in assimilation/inclusion.

The truth is that most churches are small churches. The average size of all United Methodist churches is 231 in membership. The average worship attendance in United Methodist churches is 97 or 42 percent of the membership.

What should you do if you are a small-membership church? First, recognize that most people, if they grew up in a church, most likely grew up in a smaller church. Remember that many people prefer a smaller church. They want a church that is small enough to experience the care and concern and friendliness that everyone needs. They want a church where they can be involved.

Second, focus on what small churches do best. If familiarity is the primary characteristic, make familiarity happen for the newcomers. Give them a church roster and history of the church. They will need to know the family and its traditions, histories, rituals, and funny peculiarities. Be interested in and listen to the newcomers. Find out their interests, experiences, and associations. Watch for significant contact points with other church members.

Third, find a special vocation in the community where the church can make a significant contribution. Many people are drawn to a small church because of its reputation for serving its neighbors or community. One of the most successful mission statements for smaller churches comes from Christ''s command to "love your neighbor as yourself."

Fourth, team with other churches to do programming. Prospective families are still going to expect programs for their children and youth. A joint program with several churches that can put together twenty youth for a youth program will be a lot better than a single church trying to do youth ministry with only three or four youth. Vacation Bible schools, children or youth choirs, handbell choirs, mission trips, softball teams, can all be done collaboratively and successfully with other churches.

So, which church size is the best size? Every size is the right size. The problem is not the size. The goal is to be the very best with what God has blessed us.

by Dr. Mark J. Key, Director of Congregational Development, Western New York Annual Conference

Categories: Small Membership Church