The 150 rule

The Tipping Point, by Malcom Gladwell, is a must-read book for church leaders.  It’s the book that started the viral marketing buzz, but The Tipping Point is far more than a marketing book.  Chapter 5 is subtitled, The Magic Number 150.  Here’s a quick summary:

  • Human brains are wired to handle approximately 150 social relationships.
  • Hunter-gatherer societies had an average of 148.4 persons in their villages.
  • The Hutterites, a religious community, have a policy of starting a new colony when they approach the 150 mark.
  • Gore Associates, makers of Gore-Tex, keeps their manufacturing plants under 150 persons because they found this size keeps people in touch with each other.

So, 150 seems to be a magic number in group size.   Here’s where church comes in, particularly small churches.  Dr. Israel Galindo’s book, The Hidden Lives of Congregations, describes congregational sizes.  One of those sizes is The Shepherding Congregation that ranges from 50-150 participants.  Beyond that, Galindo says, the dynamics of the congregation and its leadership change dramatically. 

This Rule of 150 explains why it’s hard for churches to break the 150 barrier in attendance.  And, it also helps us understand that even in larger churches, members will be limited in their social relationships, not by the size of the church, but by our own human capacity. 

The Rule of 150 gives us a good benchmark for knowing how to plan, what dynamics are at work in our churches, and what happens when we seek to move churches beyond that number.  Pick up both The Tipping Point and The Hidden Lives of Congregations if you want more insight into how we function socially and in our congregations.