Church size does matter

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are a pastor or member of a small-church — meaning attendance under 300.  But even in the 10-300 attendance range, Israel Galindo’s book, The Hidden Lives of Congregations, identifies 3-types of churches based on size alone.  Then, to round out the picture, throw in a church’s spiritual style and lifestage, and you have the basic clues for understanding your small church.  Here’s what Galindo says about congregational size:

Church size matters.  The Family-size church of 10-50 (Galindo says that under 10 you really don’t have a “congregation”) consists of a handful of real families and is led by the matriarchs and patriarchs of the group.  The pastor is seen as the family chaplain.   My first pastorate was New Hope Baptist Church, a family-size church with 4-families.  Each Sunday one of the families would invite me for lunch.  That was great, but the problem was some of the family would stay home from church to “get lunch ready for the preacher.” 

The Shepherding-size congregation (50-150) is probably where most of us are.  This size church offers basic programs (SS, VBS, a Bible study, etc) and is highly dependent upon the pastor for recruiting new members.  Members also want a “connection” with the pastor and get their spiritual needs met primarily through their relationship with the pastor.  This church is usually single staff, but can include a support staff member.  This is the church I’m in now; Shepherding size is the median size of all congregations in the US. 

The Programmed-size congregation has 150-350 attendees, according to Galindo.  The pastor is less accessible to members, except in times of crisis.  Administration and program management are the primary functions of staff, which can include 1-2 more staff members.  The Programmed-size church shapes its members through its activities and programs, rather than direct contact with the pastor.   Pine Lake Baptist, my first church out of seminary, was this size church.  We had about 250-300 in attendance, had 2-fulltime and 1 part-time staff members, two support staff, a custodian, a weekday preschool, a gym, and did a lot of activity stuff.

The pastor’s role changes with each size congregation.  In the Family-size church, the pastor is primarily the chaplain.  For the Shepherding-size church, the pastor is the person who embodies the spiritual connectedness of members.  In the Programmed-size church, the pastor is the program administrator and is less accessible to members for personal pastoral care. 

Both pastor and members need to be aware of the built-in expectations of the congregation at each size level.  Pastoring a Family-size church like it’s a Programmed-size church is a recipe for disaster.  And, the Shepherding-size church may be the most difficult of all, because moving beyond the 150 barrier requires that the congregation consciously adopt new expectations of the pastor and how they relate to him or her.

Size does matter, but what matters even more is that pastors and members recognize the implications of their size congregation.  Spiritual style and lifespan stage are also important characteristics for congregations.  More on these tomorrow!

7 thoughts on “Church size does matter”

  1. Chuck – Thanks for your considerations of different types of congregations. I think that you are right on here with this topic. I’m a feed reader and hope to learn from others of many different size congregations. Thanks!

  2. It’s one thing to analyze and describe. It’s another thing to change. Does the book address how to transition to the next level.

    I suppose the most difficult part is when the church says it wishes to transition but perhaps really does not.


  3. Hey, Andrew and Chuck, thanks for your comments. Galindo does not suggest how to transition, only what to watch for. But, knowing what to watch for is a big help!

  4. Interesting and helpful info, but I wonder–and hope–that we’re not confined to it in reality. The way a pastor leads his church obviously has to change to adapt to the size, but I wonder if it has to adapt in the same way.

    For instance, I recently came on board as pastor of a family-sized church (I like the descriptive names). However, I’m not chaplain material. But we do have members with chaplain-like gifts.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that while church size does have to factor into leadership style, I wonder if these definitions might limit both pastors and lay members from being free to use and develop their gifts.

  5. Nathan, thanks for your comments. No, I don’t think Galindo means that we’re stuck with the characteristics of a particular size. But, understanding where a church might be in its expectations, relationships, etc is helpful. Of course, there are exceptions to every model, and your church might be an exception to the pastor-as-chaplain expectation.

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