A few years ago, researcher Michael Bell posted some findings on the average church size in America. He discovered quite a bit about church sizes and trends, but there are 2 specific stats that rang out to me. The first is that HALF of American churches have less than 75 people. The second is that 90% of American churches have less than 350 people!
What was it about these stats that made my pastoral spidey-senses go off you may ask? Well, I suppose I thought that America was in the middle of a mega-church boom. Conversations about church growth are on the rise, newly minted denomination-neutral worship facilities are popping up in every major city, and it seems that every keynote speaker at every conference is the pastor of a huge church somewhere. Country, community, and neighborhood churches are wringing their hands with worry about attendance because they’re told they should be growing (or that they COULD be growing if they’ll just subscribe to this simple 5 week course for only $99.99). With this current church-growth trend running full bore, whether it’s outright said or just subtly implied, the message is loud and clear; big church good. Small church bad.
If consciously or unconsciously we associate the sheer size of a church with its success then we’ve got a pretty big problem on our hands when we look at these stats. Are 90% of the churches in our country failures? If you’d talk to most pastors, they’d say yes. Well, what they’d more likely say is that they think of themselves as failures for not leading a larger body. I may be preaching to the
choir appropriately diverse praise team here, but believing that church size is all that matters is wrong and it’s time for a change.
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus tell us that all churches are supposed to look the same. Apart from worship and making disciples, we’re not even really called to do the same things. Simply put, some churches need to be huge, but clearly, most do not. Remember how God looks at the inward stuff while humanity has a bad habit of looking at the outward stuff (1 Samuel 16:7)? God is much more interested in quality than quantity when it comes to churches. Are you praying for the sick? Shepherding the flock? Teaching the word faithfully? Are you making disciples of your people? Sharing the good news of Jesus with the lost? Are you being a good steward of your resources? Then don’t stress out over how many butts are in the seats.
You may not hear this often enough, but Pastor, you’re doing a good job. Trust that your work for the Lord is meaningful. Remember that Jesus needed just 12 men to change the world. Believe that if it’s full of faithful people, God can do very big things in a very small church.