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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Andy Stanley: What is the Perfect Size of a Church?

Andy_stanley_2 I don't know if any of you have been following the post over at PoMoMusings involving Andy Stanley or not.  Tony Morgan has referenced it a couple of times at his blog.  Here's the scoop:

It all started as a blog entry from someone who visited Andy's Northpoint Community Church north of Atlanta.  The person said how they didn't like larger churches; and the reponses that followed were both pro/can megachurch/Andy Stanley/North Point.  Well, Andy Stanley happened to be reading the blog and responded back to the critics (with just the right amount of sarcasm, I might add).  :)

It was kinda cool to hear Andy respond directly.   While his spelling isn't the best (who's is); what he has to say is.  (And even has another blogger starting the Andy Stanley Fan Club).

Anyway, the point of this post is that Andy asked a question on that blog that very few people have answered.  I thought it was a great question; and was interested in what you all think as well.  Andy wrote:

"What is the optimal size for a local church? When is a church big enough? When should a congregation launch a second church? We have been discussing that question since the inception of North Point. I think we have discovered the anwer. Ok, an answer. And I would love to get some outside perspective."

OK... what DO you think?  Please respond to the following questions:

1.  What is the optimal size for a local church?

2.  When is a church big enough?

3.  When should a congregation launch a second church?

Hopefully Andy will make good on giving his answer over at the other blog (or even here!)  :)


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September 8, 2005 in Church Growth | Permalink

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I think that there is no standard answer to that question. My basis for that is the parable of talents. It seems to me that a mega-church that also uses small-group settings and even mid-sized classroom level settings might be the perfect answer because:
1. it allow ministry to operate at their level of gifting, and
2. it allows the laity to find the size of ministry that they are comfortable in, and
3. they continually to be agressively evangelistic knowing that growth will not affect the size of their group (thus eliminating the "us-four-and-no-more" mentality).

Posted by: M.A.P. | Sep 8, 2005 5:03:52 PM

The perfect size of a chuch is a church where people are meeting Christ. For some that will happen in a mega church setting and for others it will be a smaller church. As God knew each of us before we were even born I think He knows the best setting for each of us and it's not an either or situation. Amen!

Posted by: kd | Sep 9, 2005 12:46:14 AM

Obviously we recognize that any answers given here are purely an individuals opinion. I truly believe that regardless of what I prefer, God has a purpose for churches of all sizes and they all have their pro's and con's. That being said, here's my numbers:

1. About 300-400
2. Not sure I understand what we mean by "enough"
3. Churches should start looking to plant around 250-300

I do admit that these numbers are pretty hypothetical, not deriving from a lot of experience in the area, although I have seen these numbers work in some other settings.

Posted by: bobby | Sep 9, 2005 2:36:26 AM

Let me fist say that I give Andy a ton of credit for even enagaging in this (imho absurd) conversation.

The idea that a guy can go to one service at a church--just one, and not participate in any other ministries... no serving... no small groups...nothing else--and then have the nerve to level the kind of critique that he does, is absurd.

I am a pastor of an emergent church plant in Storrs CT (New Egland). We are small but I hope God blesses what we are doing and we can include more and more people in our community--I think it is a really good thing to be involved at St. Paul's Collegiate Church and want as many people as possible to get the same experience I get...

I am reminded of what he scripture teaches about mega-churches:

(Matthew 25:20-21) "20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.'

21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

It seems pretty obvious to me that places like NPCC, Willow, Mosaic, Mars Hill, etc, have been "faithful with little" and so have been entrusted with much.

Andy poses some really good question... here is a quick attempt at answering them:

1. What is the optimal size for a local church?
As big as God allows... where people are meeting the Lord, growing in their faith, discovering and using their spiritual gifts for ministry both in and outside the church, investing in a group of people and being invested in by a group of people.

I think good structure and the gifts or administration and leadership allow even large churches to do this. I have seen many small churches that do not.

The idea that the Lead Pastor is the one who must be the "hands-on" shephered for every person in the church is absurd and would mean that churches shoudl never be larger than a small group. On the other hand, a Lead Pastor who can develop teams of shephereds and leaders who pastor people through small groups etc -- this is awesome when it works. It is also shows a humbleness by the Lead Pastor--I always wonder about small church pastors who think they are the only ones who can really connect, counsel, shepherd, disciples, etc the people in their church. This should not be worn as a badge of honor but of shame at failing to "train and equip the saints".

2. When is a church big enough?
Either when (a) all lost people within the geographic area have been reached; or (b) when God calls the church to something different. In other words, when the mission is completed or God changes the mission.

3. When should a congregation launch a second church?
Most obviously, when (and only when) God calls. More specifically, when (and only when)the church believes that it can be more effective at accomplishing the mission that God has given it than if the stay as one body.

Posted by: Ben Dubow | Sep 9, 2005 10:55:39 AM

I agree with Ben. The optimal size would depend and location(3x) and other factors but not an actual number. We all know that the larger churches are able to accomplish much more in the area of diverse ministries as they don't have to dump resources into the repeated basic $$ areas each congregation has.
#2 I read in the Southeast Christian Outlook (Their weekly newspaper, yes newspaper) when their Senior Minister, Bob Russell, answered stating that as long as there was one who was not yet saved then the church isn't yet big enough. If there was to be a number wouldn't the New Testament have given a clue? I'll stay with 3,000 being added in one day....
#3 When God clearly shows that it's time then it's time to start another congreation.

Posted by: Paul Porter | Sep 9, 2005 12:11:03 PM

Andy posted his answer to this question at the original blog... here it is:

Our theory is that a church should be allowed or encouraged to grow large enough to sustain a viable high school and middle school ministry. A successful student ministriy requires critical mass in order to capture and keep the attention of their target audience. So the question becomes, how many aduilts are required to generate critical mass for a student ministry? That depends upon the demographic of a community.

If you are a twenty six year old seminary student with a couple of kids in diapers that may not sound like a great answer. But if you are a church planter with 150 people and one of your elders just informed you that her family is leaving because you don't have anything for her thirteen year old, it makes painful sense.

Parents will put up with a lot in big church if thier teenagers feel connected to a student ministry.

What do you think?


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Sep 11, 2005 7:34:30 PM

This makes total sense... of course, Andy's team came up with it. That's why they are able to do what they do - the wrestle over the "how's" and the "why's."

Posted by: Tony Myles | Sep 12, 2005 2:05:29 AM

Jesus gave us a good idea in John 10:3 "he calls his own sheep by name." v 14 I know my sheep v27 I know them. A church is too large when the pastor doesn't know the names of all those who are members (and their extended families.) This would vary with the abilities of the pastor.

Posted by: Sam | Sep 13, 2005 6:57:28 PM

First of all, there is no "perfect" size. There is no "perfect" church because there are no "perfect" people. In my view looking at "size" i.e. membership numbers, is a false measurement and needs to be punted as a standard. God used 11 dedicated men and their families to change the world forever. Maybe that is the "perfect size"?

The Word says "by their fruit you will know them." The problem we have is churches - of all sizes - that have very little fruit. Growing a church that is a mile wide and 2 inches deep is not acceptable.

Every church, in my opinion, is a living entity...it must be fed and grow or it will die. But at the same time the "growth" of a church has nothing to do with how many butts are in the seats, it really has more to do with how many of those butts are dedicated to bringing Christ to their circle of influence. "Bringing visitors" to Sunday services is not true growth. Developing relationships by helping people through life and into eternity...whether they come to church or not...is.

I believe obedience to God's Word is most important, loving of neighbors and staying accountable is second and teaching the next generation are the three most important tasks of "the church"...(notice the absence of choir practice or worship services in the top three)

Smaller congregations typically can develop and maintain relationships and care for each other much easier because the group is smaller. Typically, the larger an organization gets, the easier it is for people to just drop out unnoticed (thus the small goups movement).

Larger congregations can many times pool the resources to build larger facilities and start schools and daycares...thus caring for the next generation. Smaller groups typically struggle financially a little more.

The perfect size then? I believe the perfect size church is the one that teaches obedience to the Word, focuses on being involved in the lives of every person in the congregation (i.e. "we missed you Sunday, everything okay?")and has all children in Christian education (i.e. start a school or provide scholarships for all kids).

The point is not how many people are "members" but how many people are taking care of the fundamentals, loving God, loving neighbors, teaching children.

The Word says "though He slay me, yet I will trust Him." If every church will focus on the above and TRUST GOD...He will provide the EXACT number of people they are called to serve. HE determines the size of the church, HE doesn't have a size limit, HE expects us to build a church for HIM, not for us. Simple? No. But we are not called to find the simple way, simply to follow HIS Way...no matter how hard we think it is.

Posted by: Jonah | Sep 15, 2005 9:57:53 AM

I have felt for quite some time that the optimal size of a church was between 150 and 200 members. At that level one pastor can be actively involved with the members of his congregation and be able to address their spiritual needs. When a church grows much larger than 200 then other approaches have been tried in the past, such as associate pastors, cell groups and the like. But rarely is a pastor able to maintain that personal relationship with the members that is possible in a smaller church. From a financial standpoint, a congregation of 150 - 200 (especially without a mortgage) enables the church to meet its financial obligations while being able to participate in a number of outreach ministries and emergency situation type ministries such as the ones that are now presenting themselves on the Gulf Coast.At the 200 member level, it is time to find gifted people in the church who are called by God to leadership positions, and support them in establishing a new church in a nearby geographical region. I believe the guideline should be: "when a pastor does not know each member of the congregation....then the church is too big."

Posted by: Rev. Andy Bond | Sep 19, 2005 4:40:47 PM

I think a lot of people think this way, but I'm not sure why. Why does a pastor need to personally know each member of the congregation, if each member is already being ministered to on a personal level by others (small group, deacons, etc)?

Posted by: Nick | Sep 20, 2005 10:25:39 AM

I was noticing that you don't have any "Bolgs" from any women. Why? There's a topic for you!--Crystal

Posted by: Crystal | Sep 20, 2005 11:05:11 AM

1. I really think church size is not the issue. The real issue is spirituality and focus on Christ. When Christ is the focus and a level of spirituality is maintained, any size church will seek to minister to those in its congregation, community, and the world. It is not size, but obedience that matters.
2. As far as I am concerned, churches can never be too big when there are still people that need to know Jesus. Add another service, more small groups, and more staff to accomodate anyone that seeks to know the Lord and walk with Him.
3. Several years ago I heard Rick Ferguson in a conference speaking on church planting. At the time, his church in Denver had twenty seven church plants going. Rick said his church knew it was time to plant a church when God provided a a man with a vision to do it. Earlier this year I was approached by a man with a God given vision for a new church in our area. Our church sponsored this new church and within six months they are averaging more than five hundred each Sunday. By the way, our church averages about 80 in small groups and 120 in worship. However, God had given us the man and the resources. Therefore, we knew it was time to move forward.

Posted by: Desi Ginn | Sep 20, 2005 10:32:59 PM

Desi said:
"Earlier this year I was approached by a man with a God given vision for a new church in our area. Our church sponsored this new church and within six months they are averaging more than five hundred each Sunday"

I would love to see more articles/comments about church planters, planting, and methodologies. I don't think I've ever seen one on this blog-- just mega-church and multi-site church stuff...?


Posted by: bernie dehler | Sep 20, 2005 11:20:17 PM

when Jesus divided up the crowd, he did it in fifty and hundreds, and then he gave his disciples the bread and fish and told the to go and give it to the people. If Jesus divided the people up in groups of fifty and one hundred, this may be a good sign. For if you get into mega groups you soon look at the numbers instead of the people.

Posted by: gaudia | Sep 27, 2005 5:54:35 PM

Size doesn't make a difference. It is God's business how large a church is. If two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, he is there. If thousands press into the kingdom, it is God's doing and we need to just stand back and praise him of giving success to the gospel.

Posted by: Randy Seiver | Oct 25, 2005 11:04:06 AM

I recently heard a speaker say "God is more likely to manifest Himself through a group of 300 properly equipped saints than an army of 30,000 ill equipped children hoping for any type of work."

The point being: It's not a sales job it's a training system (Doctrine and Deed).

Posted by: BeHim | Oct 26, 2005 1:31:58 AM

PEOPLE period will put with "alot in a church" if they feel they are needed and connected.

I have been part of the Chicago Tabernacle congregation now for over three years. The first Sunday I walked into the facilities, there were less than 100 people in the morning worship gathering. Now, 3+ years later, we had more than 500 in morning worship two Sundays ago--and we are meeting in a local school auditorium for the Sunday morning gathering.

How big is too big? I'm not sure--and neither is anyone else.

How big is big enough? There are as many answers to that question as there are people willing to answer it.

It's all about "connection." Sometimes we do it well, and sometimes we don't.

Posted by: Phil Hoover-Chicago | Oct 26, 2005 10:59:02 AM

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