There are two approaches when we talk about church size.
The first one is to use church size and, more specifically, church growth as the main way to tell if a church is healthy, strong and effective. Big and getting bigger? Great! Small and staying small? Not so good.
The second approach is to treat church size like it doesn’t matter at all. So there’s no need to talk about it. It’s like avoiding a discussion about politics at your first dinner with the in-laws, there are so many potential landmines, it’s best to steer clear of it entirely.
I’d like to propose a third approach.
We must talk about church size. Not to determine of the health and effectiveness of a church, or to compare which churches are successful and which are not. Church size is useless as a determiner for that.
Instead, we need to talk about church size because big churches and small churches are different. And knowing how they’re different is one of the first steps in knowing how to lead them well, what kinds of ministries a particular church is best suited for, and what types of people each church will be reaching.
Erasing The Stigma
For too long, there’s been a stigma attached to small church ministry.
Thom Rainer felt the sting of that stigma recently, after penning a very encouraging article Thank God For Smaller Churches And Their Leaders. In a follow-up article, Seven Reasons We Need To Move Beyond The Church Size Debate, he wrote:
“It is predictable.
Any time I write about anything dealing with church sizes, some of the discussion degenerates into a debate about the best size church. It happened last week when I wrote some positive words about smaller churches. It has happened in the past when I wrote some positive words about megachurches.
We need all churches. All sizes of churches. We need more churches. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.”
Rainer is right.
There are good qualities to big churches and small churches.
We need to remove the stigma that’s been attached to talking about church size and see it is as just one of many factors that helps us accurately assess where we are, what we have and what we’re supposed to be doing with it.
But we can’t do that if we don’t change the way we talk about it. (Please note, Rainer’s article doesn’t say we should stop having a church size conversation, but that we should move beyond the church size debate – the one that pits churches of varying sizes against one another.)
No Best Size
Both of the ways we usually talk about small churches are shamed-based. When we compare big to small, it’s almost always a debate about what’s best. And if there’s a best, there must be a worst.
The truth is, there’s no church size that’s always the best. That’s why we need churches of all sizes, because there’s always going to be a size that’s appropriate for a given situation.
Unfortunately, we don’t always know what the best size is for a given situation, because we’re not having the conversation about size in healthy ways.
A New Conversation About Church Size
So let’s change that.
Let’s reclaim the church size conversation. Move it out of a comparison/shame/stigma-based place and talk about it in plain sight, with the lights on, in an honorable way.
It’s important to ask the questions that need to be asked, and to offer honest, grace-filled answers that tell us what we need to know.
Let’s stop assuming that small churches are broken, and that big churches are successful, or – on the other side – that small churches are faithful and big churches are compromised.
None of those assumptions are fair or true.
What is fair is to treat each other with respect as we have this long overdue conversation.
That’s how we’ll find out the truth about church size. And when we do that, we’ll release churches of all sizes to be who they’re called to be, reach who they’re meant to reach – and do it all for the glory of God.
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