The size of a church

Hi all. Today I would like to call your attention to a recent and provocative article about church size. It's borrowed from

Christianity Today magazine. Here's a few paragraphs for your perusal. Author Karl Vaters boldly declares:

No one in the New Testament cared about congregational size.

We know that because, while virtually every other aspect of church health is mentioned, attendance numbers are never even hinted at.

(Yes, some crowd sizes are mentioned in the Gospels and Acts, but those crowds weren’t churches. In fact, those figures were more like counting total conversions in a town than seeing one congregation grow while others are ignored.)

In the first century, faithful churches were encouraged and applauded, even if they were small and struggling. Yet some numerically-growing churches were criticized for becoming lukewarm as their success went to their heads.

In a hyper-growth culture, a church like Philadelphia might have been told to “get those numbers up or we’ll bring in someone who can” instead of “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Rev 3:8)

Meanwhile a large, growing church like Laodicea might have been holding church growth conferences, while we all ignored the underlying reality of “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev 3:17)

If it seems like I’m bashing the big church for being big, I’m not. And neither was John the Apostle.

John simply recognized a truth that is very easy to forget – that the size of a congregation has no direct correlation to their health or faithfulness. Numerical growth didn’t make Laodicea complacent any more than lack of numerical growth made Philadelphia unfaithful.

It Takes Our Eyes Off The Prize

What’s the prize? More people coming into a saving relationship with Jesus and being discipled.

That can happen in any size of church.

But when church size is the primary focus of church leadership, it becomes very easy to put all our eggs in the “bigger church” basket instead keeping our eyes on the bigger and more important aspects of overall kingdom growth.

Going back to the illustration of the town with one church growing while overall church attendance was dropping – what if some of that growth was at the cost of the smaller congregations? That’s not a stretch. It’s almost always the case.

We’re not just ignoring the small churches, we’re often promoting the growth of one congregation at the direct expense of others.

While we praise the growing church, we’re not just ignoring the small churches, we’re often promoting the growth of one congregation at the direct expense of others. Then we blame the shrinking church(es) instead of tackling the deeper issues.

Think Truly Bigger

As long as church growth keeps being about congregational size, these problems will not just persist, they will get worse.

There’s only one way out of this. We need to think bigger. Truly bigger.

Bigger than numerical growth.

Bigger than congregational size.

Bigger than attendance figures.

We need a renewed, Christ-honoring, cooperative approach to kingdom growth that ignores no one, includes everyone, and utilizes the gifts of every church, no matter their size.

  • Interestingly, in China a house church might have hundreds of members. Even thousands.

    • I like how this author looked to the "city" level as a better measure of how the church is really doing. That's how it should be. 

      He does fail to mention, however, one of the biggest driving forces behind the push for church growth - money. I don't mean greed - just the perceived need for money for salaries, buildings, and programs to operate a church - none of which are essential features. I am part of a church with none of those - no budget, no politics, just family in Christ stirring each other toward growth. 

      It is impossible for a vocational pastor of a small church to ignore numbers. The numbers determine whether he can afford to stay there or not, unlike any other member of the church. Perhaps the problem there is the vocation part - pastoring as a career. Perhaps Paul knew what he was talking about when he told the Ephesian elders in Acts to keep their day jobs to provide living examples of generosity. It also avoids this unhealthy dependence on numerical growth, and the competitive, territorial mindsets of churches as corporations that distract us from seeing the church at the city level as we should.

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