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Friday, December 12, 2008

Misguided Misgivings 3: Bigger isn’t Better

There are thousands of pastors of smaller congregations across the country who live with a feeling that they are failures because their church isn’t as big as the megaplex congregation down the street. This is sad and should not be the case.

A global survey conducted by Christian Schwartz found that smaller churches consistently scored higher than large churches in seven out of eight qualitative characteristics of a healthy church. A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and Life Way Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more. The research seems to even indicate that the pattern continues—the smaller the size of the church the more fertile they are in planting churches.

It pains me that so many churches and leaders suffer from an inferiority complex when in fact they could very well be more healthy and fruitful than the big-box church down the street and just what God wants of them.

5 comments:

Dan said...

Hi again,

Bigger isn't better of course. I don't think anyone would ever say that. You can have an obese unhealthy passive church. But at the same time, smaller isn't better either. You can have skinny and small unhealthy church who is inward focused and . I don't know of anyone who is arguing that bigger = better. My concern is no matter what size, small, medium, large that we are seeing new disciples made over time.

Dan said...

Hi again,

Bigger isn't better of course. I don't think anyone would ever say that. You can have an obese unhealthy passive church. But at the same time, smaller isn't better either. You can have skinny and small unhealthy church who is inward focused and . I don't know of anyone who is arguing that bigger = better. My concern is no matter what size, small, medium, large that we are seeing new disciples made over time.

Neil Cole said...

Hello again,

Yes it is true. My only comment is that when I start a church that doesn't make it after a year or two it cost us nothing. We didn't pay rent, buy a sound system, pay for advertising, or salaries.

Also, I am not saying that smaller is better, BUT I am saying that you can only reproduce at the smallest scale. So shooting to multiply the large complex entity without health in the cellular level is foolish. Having a good experience on Sunday morning does not make for a good church...it is the rest of the week that determines a churches success. Ultimately, your church is only as good as her disciples.

I am not saying that there are not good large churches, I think I made that clear. I am saying that if we continue to hold that up as the success (as we have for decades now) then we will see many smaller healthy churches close their doors and feel like failures because we have foolishly bought in to a consumeristic approach where selfishness determines a church's success, rather than unselfishness.

The main point of this post is that the studies show that smaller churches, on the whole, are as healthy (actually rate healthier) than large ones, but are made to feel inadequate because our standard of what success is is illegitimate.

Andy Rowell said...

Neil,

Greetings. I am intrigued by the quantitative side of all of this as evidenced by my posts on Out of Ur trying to sort it all out.

Yes, I remember the quote by Christian Schwarz.
"We measured eight quality characteristics: empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. Larger churches do better than smaller churches only in creating more inspiring worship services."

Interview with Christian A. Schwarz | posted 5/25/2004

I had always thought it was true until I started looking at more statistics. If anyone can find more information about his research, I would love to see it. You can email me at rowell.andy@gmail.com

I cite some of the myths about smaller being better or larger being better in the
Megachurch Misinformation post at Out of Ur

An additional thing that has come to my attention is that many megachurches are church planting.

Scott Thumma and Warren Bird write,

• Church Planting. One might assume that this effort to create multiple worship locations under the rubric of a single church’s identity would detract from the effort to plant new independent churches. However, such is not the case; the number of megachurches who are planting new churches is also rising according to our studies. Megachurches planting or helping to plant other congregations rose from 68% in 2000 to 70% in 2005 to 77% in 2008.

Interestingly, those churches with satellite campuses were even more likely to have planted a church; only 16% never did, compared to 26% of those without satellites who never planted another church.

Changes in American Megachurches:
Tracing Eight Years of Growth and Innovation
in the Nation's Largest-attendance Congregations
by Scott Thumma and Warren Bird


I just thought I would toss in those bits of information. I think highly of what you are doing Neil and look forward to our paths crossing sometime.

andy

Andy Rowell
Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) Student
Duke Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

Neil Cole said...

Andy,

Thanks for the contributions. It is interesting that many of our sources are from the same place...ultimately Leadership Network. They have always been very supportive and kind to our movement, and are very helpful to the megachurches of America as well. Good folks.

You have to search hard for the stats on smaller churches planting more churches it isn't easy to find, but it is there. It is also from last year, so it is pretty fresh. It came out of the same research Ed Stetzer used to determine the churches that are doing best at church planting (which I think was published in Outreach Magazine last year around this time).

The list of churches in that article were mostly megachurches. I know that some megachurches are planting churches. Many of the pastors on the list are friends of mine. But there is a strong bias about megachurches in our Christian society today. You will notice that there is no mention in the article of the organic networks that are planting churches by the hundreds these days.

Christian's research is available and always ongoing. His ministry is called Natural Church Development (NCD) and is in Germany. I just spoke with him recently and I think his research seems to continue to show the same results.