Monday, August 13, 2012

Is Bigger Really Better? The Statistics actually Say "No"!

There are millions of people in 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.

I am not suggesting that the mega church is something we need to end, I am simply saying that we need other kinds of churches to truly transform our world. I also do not want people in huge churches to think that just because they have more people and more money that they are more blessed by God. The stats tell us that ten smaller churches of 100 people will accomplish much more than one church of 1000.

Christian Schwarz says:

“The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100-200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200-300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300-400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.”

Schwarz found that the average growth rate in smaller churches was 13% (over five years), whereas in larger churches it was a mere 3%. A small church in the NCD sample with an average attendance of fifty-one typically converted thirty-two persons in five years; megachurches in the NCD sample averaged 2,856 in attendance but converted only 112 new persons in five years. The same number of persons participating in fifty-six small churches averaging fifty-one in attendance would have produced 1,792 converts in five years.

I know such extrapolations in some ways mean little. I also know that conversions is not the whole picture. My point is that we need to stop seeing smaller churches as less successful. The trend currently is seeing the closing down of smaller churches as larger ones increase in size and number and I think this could be an alarming trend given the actual facts when we measure true influence.

When I mention statistics like these I am often criticized as being a mega church hater, and that is not fair. I am not a hater. I am not a bride-basher because I love the groom too much.

It is hard for me to feel sorry for the mega churches when this information confronts them given that they are so often lifted up as the height of success–often at the expense of the smaller church around the corner. My advice: Get over it. I am not thrashing the mega church here, I am simply saying that smaller churches are necessary, needed, and often more fruitful than we have been led to believe. And they often feel less significant in the shadows of their much larger sister around the corner. Lets look at the truth and accept it for what it is and strive to do whatever it takes to make a difference in this world.


John S. Wilson III said...

thinking the problem is institutionalism whether the ekklesia is small or not. Anything small is able to beget itself easier than something large, whether it is institutional or not. Smaller obviously means better relationships but whether they are living by the life of Christ or listening to a preacher in a house is the question. Institutional churches will beget institutional churches, and small institutional churches are more apt to beget smaller institutional churches, leading to the same problems we have continued to face in the west. The ekklesias we see in Acts were large or small and each enjoyed life together by Christ. The issue is about life not how small or large an ekklesia is, as it seems to me. May we learn from history.

Pasha said...

Neil, I appreciate your desire to call people in the right direction. I think the bigger problem is that people are caught up in the idea of an entity that is fixed to a building and a location; fixed to a specific time of meeting on a Sunday; locked in and tied down to all sorts of rules on how to "do church".
I remember listening to a talk from your CMA conference back in 2008 where one of the speakers spoke of "terminology affecting theology". I tend to agree with this concept and would add that the word church itself is unhelpful. The word church has its origins in defining something that is the building or temple, it has no bearing on the Body of Christ or the Ekklesia that scripture speaks of.

So in essence it does not matter whether it be a mega church or a smaller institutional church, both are a far cry from the expression that Jesus wants for his bride. But to follow your logic, just as a smaller gathering of people is more effective in spreading the gospel, a more informal gathering is also more effective.

When I think of all that mega churches stand for I have no qualms in saying that they are not on the right track at all. Indeed they are building their own kingdoms.

Neil Cole said...

I would go so far as to say ALL reproduction must happen at the micro level. If you can't multiply the smaller and simpler expressions you will never multiply the larger more complex entities. Yes, ecclesia can and is often both, but the life of the kingdom reproduces at the micro level.

I agree that the English term "church" is hampered with two thousand years of corruption and abuse. I do not feel it is right for me to abandon the term though that is the best scenario for many. Instead, God has called me to redefine, reimagine and release the true ecclesia and in order to do that I have to use the language of the people. From there I can speak to the need for change.

Pasha said...

Hi Neil, I appreciate your need to use the word church. I guess I need to not use it. I don't want people I know to feel that I am inviting them to church. I'm not. All I am doing is introducing them to Jesus and praying for their lives to be transformed.
God Bless!

Neil Cole said...

That would even be my recommendation and, in fact, often is. Especially in missional contexts where the people group where you are working has a pre-existing and corrupted view of church. Make it a Jesus movement, not a church movement.

Cameron Shaffer said...

Could you post links to the two studies you mentioned? That would be very helpful.