The landscape of evangelicalism in 2018 seems to be dominated by mega-churches. This is in large part a result of social media, national conferences, and multi-campus churches. The largest churches in the country, along with their celebrity pastors, are constantly celebrated and championed in the United States. Sometimes this is a good thing, and people all across the country can benefit from the wisdom of a particular pastor or church. Sometimes this is a bad thing, and the mistakes of a particular pastor or church are multiplied across the country.
One undeniable result of these trends is the feeling that big churches are getting bigger and small churches are dying. If you trace this feeling down to the heart level of many regular pastors I think you’ll find discouragement. In the midst of a church culture that often celebrates size and growth above faithfulness, many tend to forget that “normal” is not “mega.” The vast majority of churches in the United States have less than 300 people in Sunday worship. Additionally, many tend to forget that a number of factors influence the size and growth of your church. While some of these factors can be controlled by the pastor and church leaders, many are uncontrollable. These factors include:
- Community Demographics: How many people live in your community? What are their ages? Are people moving into your community or moving out of your community?
- Community Economics: Are their jobs available in your community? Are those jobs good paying jobs? Is giving adequate to support a budget that can encourage growth?
- Community Churches: How many churches are their in your community? How old are those churches? What denominational options are available? Are other churches growing?
- Community Location: Where in the United States is your community located? Are churches in this location typically large or small? Are most people churched or unchurched?
- Community History: What is the history of churches in your community? Have there been church splits? Are their rivalries between churches? Do people hold grudges?
Regular pastors often find themselves in situations where several of these uncontrollable factors make numerical growth extremely challenging. Many serve and lead faithfully in difficult situations without ever experiencing the kind of growth that is celebrated by popular evangelicalism. These pastors must constantly fight the temptation to measure their attendance and growth rate against churches they only see online. They must remember that on the last day they will not be held accountable for whether or not their church grew exponentially and opened a half dozen satellite campuses. Rather, on the last day regular pastors will be held accountable for what was entrusted to them (Matthew 25:14-30).
I’d love to hear your thoughts about church size, and the factors (controllable and uncontrollable) that impact church size. For more thoughts about this topic, check out this recent episode of the Regular Pastor Podcast, “How Big Should Your Church Be?”