Small Churches are important in The Long Tail


Chris Anderson’s book, The Long Tail, describes the effect of more choice on consumer sales. Anderson explains it this way –

Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail. The Long Tail, pg 52

In other words, the more stuff there is to choose from, the more choices we make. Take books, for instance. The typical Borders retail store carries 100,000 titles. Amazon offers 1,000,000 titles. And, here’s the long tail — 25% of Amazon’s sales come from outside the top 100,000 titles. Again, more choice, more sales.

W hat does this have to do with church? Here it is:

longtail-copy.jpg

  • The red indicates the 10% of the churches that account for 50% of church attendance. Megachurches dominate the church world, like Top 10 hits dominate the music world.
  • But, the other 50% of church attendance (in blue) is spread throughout 90% of churches, and most of these are small by comparison.
  • The median church worship service has 90 people (the black line indicates the approximate median). In other words, half of all churches have more, half have less on a Sunday morning.

Small churches account for about 25% of all church attendance, but provide more diversity, flexibility, and sustainability than megachurches. 

Small churches are part of the long tail of the church world and are filling a niche that megachurches cannot fill.  Plus, small churches “fit” the culture of the 21st century — more choice, more diversity, and more discretion is what people are seeking.

The next time someone mentions “small churches,” just remind them that we’re part of the new economy and make up the Long Tail in the church world.

8 thoughts on “Small Churches are important in The Long Tail”

  1. I appreciate the prior comment, however I have served in both large and small church contexts and find that people are people no matter what setting they’re in. Each has a unique culture or ethos, but in the end you connect with people in each environment. I’m finding that as I’m getting a little older (45), that I’m appreciating my roots and foundations that were laid in a smaller church context.

    I pastor a mid-sized church at this time and we are beginning to see slow healthy growth, but I’m committed to keeping a personal and intimate ethos. One of my dearest friends pastors a mega-church of over 2,000 in attendance with four services each weekend. To be very honest, he sleeps little, stresses much and continues to strive for more. He confesses his pride often and that he struggles with a mentality of competition.

    I, on the other hand, sleep well, love much and enjoy the community and family atmosphere of our smaller church. Sure, perhaps it’s just a preference issue, but at this stage in the game, I think I’m enjoying a better “quality” of life because I’m not striving after what the American Church Growth Culture considers success i.e. Buildings, Budgets and Baptisms. Sorry to run on with this. I’m just so thankful for what the Lord has built in and through us here in Abilene, TX.

    Laced with Grace,
    Jimmy Pruitt
    MSCC Abilene, TX

  2. Dee and Jim, thanks for your comments. This is why we have both vanilla and chocolate, or something like that. Prior experience does matter, and small churches can be difficult, but big ones can be anonymous. For me it’s the journey, wherever I am. Thanks for adding to the conversation. — Chuck

  3. Interesting and compelling.

    I think the problem with small churches is the leadership has a large church expectation. I believe small churches can do more in many ways than large churches. I requires a focus on the right things and an evaluation of the things that count.

    Thanks, I enjoy your blog.

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