Saturday, February 16, 2008

of big churches--feel free to participate in this discussion!

During a conversation with Jesh recently, he asked how many people attend my church. I wasn't sure. A couple of weeks later I took a minute to count seats and discovered that our sanctuary seats 600. There are three services every Sunday, with different attendees--two morning services, and an evening service geared toward college students. I don't know how many people attend each service, but I know that the service I attend is usually pretty full, and I remember the college service (I started attending this church in my college days) usually being filled too.

The church has organized "small groups" to help people connect with others and feel more at home. There are various Bible studies, couples groups, moms groups, etc. that meet throughout the week.

The question is, when is a church too big? Is there a point when a church should split due to size? I suppose you could almost say that our church is already split, since the people who attend the 9:30 a.m. service may never cross paths with the people who attend the 7 p.m. service. But there's still just one pastor (well, plus an associate pastor who handles counseling, and a college pastor) and one board of elders.

So...a question for the many, many people who read my blog :) How big is your church? Do you think there's a point when a church is too big? What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages of big or small churches? (If you have an answer to one of those questions, don't feel obligated to come up with an answer to the rest)

I have my own thoughts, which I have been mulling over for some time now. But I will save my opinions for later!


  1. I think that is an interesting question: not sure what my answer would be, but I am thinking about it!

    I've gone from one extreme (being part of a congregation of about a dozen) to the other (part of a congregation of about 500 - 600)

  2. Well I've definitely got opinions on this, but I'm not comfortable enough to post them, I guess. :D

  3. I suppose it would depend on the community. A big church might be appropriate in a dense residential district, such as, for example, a college town.

    I personally prefer (using my own terms) 'community churches' rather than 'commuter churches'. Ideally, one should be going to church with one's neighbors. 'Commuter churches', where people leave their neighborhood to attend church with people they never see outside church, are only furthering the modern breakdown of the community.

    However, today's situation can make commuter churches a necessity -- my own church is currently a commuter church, because as far as I know, it is the only church within a 300 mile radius of Houston that practices and teaches important principles that its members adhere to. But if we were to grow large enough that our finances could support two buildings and two ministers, I would be in favor of trying to move toward more community-based churches -- by dividing into two or more congregations.

  4. Hey, I got feedback! Thanks for the opinions.

    My opinions on large churches are of course skewed by the fact that I have only experienced one large church, which may be different from others because of its transient nature (many of its attendees are college students who attend for four or five years, then move on).

    I think I may have to make another blog post to explain my views, because they might take up some space. :)

    But if anyone else has opinions to share (or to expand upon), I would be happy to hear them.

  5. I can see pros and cons in both situations - big and small churches.

    In the Scottish church I was brought up in there is an unfortunate tendency (I suppose it is human nature) in big congregations for "cliques" to form, and people belong to one group or another. And if you don't fit into any, then you don't fit.

    I have a family member who attends the FPC in Glasgow, and other than a couple of people (literally a couple), she gets completely ignored every Sabbath, since she doesn't really "belong" to any clique. She's been attending there since 1986, but has never fitted in or belonged and since she is single, she can spend a whole Lord's Day without speaking to anyone. (Other than a polite handshake on the way in)

    In the congregation in London which I used to attend when Rev K Watkins was the minister I thought the congregation was a nice size (tho the building was practically bursting at the seams at one point), since there were about 90 people, inc children, plenty families, lots of children/young people as well as singles.

    Everyone fitted in together, there wasn't any obvious "hierarchy" of anyone being more important than anyone else. And everyone spoke to each other and cared about each other. The downside was that people were driving one, two or more hours to get to church, so the community aspect was lost.

    A disadvantage of smaller groups is that they tend to have one "mindset" and if you don't fit it, it becomes very obvious very fast. Or if the "ruling elder" disagrees with you, you will never be welcomed.

    Also, if a church is very small, I'd feel self conscious going there, since with 14 of us we might make up a third of the congregation!

    I personally grew up in a very small congregation and I didn't like it at all - there were no other children, no one to be friends with and no one we ever saw other than on Sabbaths.

    Right now we attend the Met Tab, where there must be c. 500 people.

    Getting to know people is hard, since they all know each other, and a lot have some idea who we are (in a congregation with an average of 1.4 children, we stand out - along with the hats and the fact that we keep the children in for the sermon), so it is hard to feel part of the church or make friends.

    But part of that is because there is a definite "world view" in the MT, and we don't conform to it. (It involves a lot of small families, career moms and children are not supposed to be sitting thru a sermon till they are 13!)

    We've been attending the MT for very nearly 2 years and the pastor has never once spoken to any of us. Not even to say "good morning"

    So I guess that argument goes both ways: if you don't fit into the mindset of a church, then you will never be "at home" there (regardless of the size of the congregation)

    And as Jeshurun said, the concept of a community church is important. I've never really had the opportunity (since I was very young) to attend a community church, where we met church people during the week.

    I think I'd prefer a community/local church, regardless of size, rather than an "ideal sized" church which was 40 minutes' drive away

    Assuming of course, grin, that the preaching was sound.

    I listened to a sermon yesterday on the importance of committment to a local church. . .

    Those of you (in Santa Fe!) who have a local church should be thankful :-)

    Sharon, would be interested to hear more about your church. Do you manage to take the boys into the worship service with you?


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