Missional Size Matters

In a recent article by Neil Cole, he states “ten smaller churches of 100 people will accomplish much more than one church of 1000.”  

He also quotes Christian Schwarz , who says:

“The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches, the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100-200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200-300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300-400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.”

While I found a lot of interest and agreement in the article itself, I became very interested in some of the comments.  One of the commenters said “Please, please, PLEASE, for the love of all that’s holy, can we stop this ridiculous false dichotomy that EITHER small churches are better or large churches are better? There are some excellent small churches. There are some terrible small churches. There are some excellent large churches. There are some terrible small churches. I have seen amazing fellowship in 1000+ member churches and pitiful fellowship in churches of <100.” 

I don’t think Neil insinuated a dichotomy, false or otherwise.  I think that based on the statistics provided, he’s just making a reasonable conclusion.  Whether or not those numbers are statistically valid can be verified with just a little bit of research.  While I don’t have statistics, my experience would line up with Neil’s conclusions.  

Ultimately he closes with this thought: “that smaller churches are necessary, needed, and often more fruitful than we have been led to believe. And they often feel less significant in the shadows of their much larger sister around the corner.”

As for being missional or organic in my approach to ministry, I don’t think I’m a good fit in either camp.  This caused me to coin my own word, “Missiorganic,” and I’ve been flushing that out practically ever since.  I would encourage you to read the article and the comments which can be found HERE 

For my part, I’d say that if you want to build a machine instead of a mission, size won’t matter.  

I would also recommend reading a lengthy piece by Ralph D. Winter entitled “THE TWO STRUCTURES OF GOD’S REDEMPTIVE MISSION.”  

For now, I’d like to ask a few questions:

1.  What is your experience?  Does the size of your church or gathering matter when it comes to being effective in mission?

2.  Do we create false dictomoties when comparing size and effectiveness of gatherings?

3.  Should the MEGA-churches be broken down into mini’s to better serve God’s mission? 


0 thoughts on “Missional Size Matters

  1. Tim Baker says:

    In answer to your questions.
    1. In my experience, I have seen both good and bad small and big churches. I have seen several small churches around 100-150 who have been able to give, and give lots of resources (not simply money) to the Mission of God. I have also witnessed huge Churches, who do have lots of resources give unbelievable amounts of resources to the mission of God. My opinion is that smaller churches that accomplish much have to have a higher percentage of participation from its members engaged in the mission of God then do larger Churches.

    2. Big or Small does not matter. Mindset and intentionality is the key regardless of size. It is a mindset issue.

    3. I do not have an answer for that one! Good question.

  2. Peter says:

    In my opinion, saying that the growth rates depends on the number of saints, nullifies a point in one of your previous posts and Scripture: “but it was God who made it grow”.

    • Miguel says:

      Peter, I was thinking the same thing. But, oddly enough, when I’ve seen too many within a specific context, it appears as if the machine maintenance impedes the mission. What do you think?

      • Peter says:

        I absolutely agree. It becomes a machine, a system, a business. Something that was meant to be heavenly, grown by God, becomes controlled and shaped by humans. It is taken out of God’s fertile land and put into pots, that limit its growth. I think the lack of growth comes because as churches grow, they increasingly become conformed to the world’s image. They become another business. Additionally, I think it becomes more and more difficult for every member of the Body to function as the gathering grows.

        On the other, I also don’t think it is all about numbers of new people. The number of people saved doesn’t mean so much to me. Many people seem to be “saved” more than once. Others are moved by their emotions to be saved and then go back to their former way of life or even reject the Lord who they professed faith in. Much of the growth of churches is people moving from one church to another.

        I believe that the Lord prefers quality over quantity.

        Here is important Scripture about the building of God’s House, the growing of His Farm:

        “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. “For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel–these are the eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth.” – [Zec 4:9-10 NASB]

        • Peter says:

          I agree with Peter (excellent name by the way). The number saved listed in the bulletin or on the marquee isn’t nearly as indicative of a church’s success as the number of disciples matured.

          Even then we have to take into account the fields being harvested. Two disciples made in a year in a Muslim country may be a more stunning harvest than a hundred made in a year in the U.S..

  3. David Bartholomew says:

    As much of a “thing” as I have gotten about “leadership” during the past year, experience and study still prove that the person, or people, heading up a church make a big difference in how the body grows. If the planter, or leader, keeps all the work that needs done in their own hands, the people who are added to a church won’t see spreading the gospel as their responsibility. So, as much as I would like to claim that a smaller church with less machinery would grow the best, it really has to do with the heart and mindset that the planter and the leadership models for newer or younger members.

  4. GaryFPatton says:

    I’ve been in both a mega-church, Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship in TO for 12 years and in new churches of <100. It's not the size but "the saints in Christ in the seats" that make the difference in regular, ongoing multiplication, in my opinion.

    Hopefully you'll permit, a sidebar Q, Miguel, that bears on your others while not wishing to be offensive to you or other of your Missionary readers. Why do Jesus Followers use the word "mission" and it's variants which I cannot find used even once in either the NIV or NASB New Covenant.

    In too many Assemblies, small and mega alike, mission means supporting a paid professional "over there". "Disciple-making", a term you use a lot however, means here, as well there, and everywhere, regardless of Gathering size.

    Blessings all!
    Gary in Toronto
    Is disciple-making not more in line with the more accurate translation of "as you're going along" rather than "Go" in Matthew 28:18-19 rather than mission which only has tradition to support it?.

  5. Jonathan says:

    1. What is your experience? Does the size of your church or gathering matter when it comes to being effective in mission?

    A military analogy works well here. A Marine division is composed of 3 regiments. Each regiment is composed of 3 battalions, Each battalion is composed of 6 companies. Each company is composed of 3-5 platoons. Each platoon is composed of approx. 3 squads. Squads are composed of fire teams. Each fire team is composed of around 4 Marines.

    Every Marine belongs to the Marine Corps but their work is done at the squad level. This is expressed by the doctrine of “Every Marine is a Rifleman”. Regardless of the size of the advance, the work is going to be done by squads in coordination with other squads. There is no category (with the obvious exception of the staffing and leadership at each organizational level) of a Marine who is not actively engaged at the squad level. Even executive officers continue to train as riflemen in case they need to hit the line.

    In my experience, the larger the church, the greater the opportunity to simply fade into the background with an active minority doing what is analogous to the work of a squad. Also, the larger the church, the more resources dedicated to maintaining and improving the “church experience” for members.

    Just like the Marine Corps, churches have a very simply worded mission. In my experience, the larger the church, the lower the emphasis on making sure that every member is actively engaged in the mission.

    2. Do we create false dictomoties when comparing size and effectiveness of gatherings?

    No. Go to a mega church and do an informal survey. Ask a question like, “what is your specific ministry involvement here?” to the folks in the pew. The answers will tell you why this is not false dichotomy.

    3. Should the MEGA-churches be broken down into mini’s to better serve God’s mission?

    If a Mega is serious about the mission (as evidenced by a commitment that every member is actively engaged in the mission), then it could be structured in way that would not require being broken down.

    Anyone have an example of a Mega that is doing this? I’m familiar with several mid and mega sized churches. None of them are doing this. Further, it would be considered troublemaking to even ask the question. 🙂

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