Church Size: The Fault Line in the Movement


It can be good to have a “tribe” (e.g., Acts 29, 9Marks, SGM, the PCA)  where you resonate with the philosophy of ministry and get good resources for your work.  I’m also glad for what God is doing to bring people together across Reformed “tribes” through movements like T4G and The Gospel Coalition. Part of what God seems to be doing is forging trust and partnerships between groups that do things differently.

But from my observation (at conferences and in personal conversations), there seems to be still be a fault line running through us: church size.  I’ve sat in conferences where the speakers talk as if you aren’t a good pastor until your church hits 2,000 people in attendance.  I’ve also heard small church pastors who seem to assume that large crowds always indicate that the message is being watered down.

A few suggestions on the matter:

  • Drop the “better than” language. 

Large churches aren’t better than small.  And vice versa.  I don’t care what your surveys say, you can easily find examples and statistics to show the superiority of whatever it is that you happen to be doing.  The fact is, some churches grow big because the ministry is faithful and the Lord is blessing.  Others grow big because the itching ears of the masses are being appeased.  Some small churches are doing great work in difficult places.  Others are small because they are lame and ineffective.  Most churches (big and small) do some things well and other things less well.

  • Realize that size is often a choice.

We need to realize that church size is often not so much a function of gifting and faithfulness, but rather of principled decisions.  The way that you understand evangelism, discipling, shepherding, and congregational life will go a long way to determining your church size.  To put it simply, it may not be that the other guy can’t do what you’re doing… it may be that he doesn’t want to.  Tim Keller’s Leadership and Church Size Dynamics does a good job laying out the sacrifices and changes a church has to make as it grows.  Some churches will simply decide that they can’t go further along the path and remain true to their philosophy of ministry.

  • Recognize that your challenges are mostly spiritual, not administrative.  

What all churches (small, medium, and large) need are believers who love the Lord Jesus and embrace the implications of the gospel for their lives, the life of the congregation, and the world around them.  No amount of programming, resources, or administrative genius in a large church will help if your church isn’t a place where people are being transformed by God into those kinds of believers.  No amount of personal interaction and one-on-one access to the pastor in a small church will matter if it’s not moving people in that direction.  Big churches and small churches have access to the same means of grace (preaching, prayer, the sacraments) which God promises to bless to those ends.  Yes, administration matters.  But it won’t solve anything unless the means of grace are in effect.

  • Be on guard against pride.

We tend to spiritualize whatever it is that we’re good at doing.  But the fact is that faithful ministry will look different in different places.  God gives different men different gifts and calls them to different work.  One person takes pride in the size of their church and looks down on “less successful” pastors.  Another person takes pride in the intimacy of their church and looks down on “less faithful” pastors.  Can we all just admit that no pastor is good enough to deserve any of God’s blessings, but we have received this ministry by the mercy of God (II Corinthians 4:1)?

  • We. Are. All. On. The. Same. Team.

Let’s make sure we’re acting like it.

Mike McKinley

Mike is an author and the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia.

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