When Church Growth Perceptions Don’t Match Small Church Reality (Infographic)

Perception RealityChurch leaders have a lot of ideas about what the numerical growth of a church – and therefore its size – says about that church’s success and value. Unfortunately, many of those perceptions don’t match reality.

For example:

True, Small Churches have been perceived that way at times – sometimes by their own pastors. But one of the goals of NewSmallChurch.com is to challenge such misperceptions. Because perceptions have a way of becoming reality if we’re not careful.

So far, we’ve presented ideas and advice about the uniqueness of Small Churches in The Grasshopper Myth, over 200 written blog posts and a growing collection of podcasts and videos. But the one way we haven’t expressed it is in the visual format known as an infographic.

Until now. 

This post has been UPDATED. Scroll past the infographic to see the update.


Reality Perception Infographic

Or you can click the picture below to get it in a wide format that fits on a single screen or page.


Big Church Small Church Perception Reality Infographic (wide - medium)

It’s on a white background to make it easier for printing.

UPDATE: I’ve been asked why I used the number 350 in the first section of this graphic, when I’ve used a lower number in other writings on this subject. This statistic is highly disputed. It could be anywhere from 200 – 350. Since so many small congregations around the world report to no one, any attempt at an accurate measurement is an educated guess, at best. Because of that, the number of people worshiping in smaller churches is vastly under-reported and I sometimes factor that likelihood into the numbers I use.

Even though I believe 200-250 is more likely, I used the higher number of 350 here and in The Grasshopper Myth because this graphic and the book are more permanent, stand-alone documents. Even though a lower number would strengthen my argument, using 350 leaves less room for push-backs and controversy, since it’s the number most commonly used by researchers And it still supports the underlying premise of the post – that far more people worship in Small Churches than most of us realize.


For further reading on these topics and their implications for ministry, check out these blog posts:


So what do you think? Are you aware of any other reality / perception differences between Big Churches and Small Churches?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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(Infographic designed by Karl Vaters)

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14 thoughts on “When Church Growth Perceptions Don’t Match Small Church Reality (Infographic)”

  1. One of our national newspapers recently reported that the trend for church growth in Canada is the mega church. Their argue,net are the twenty two churches in Canada that have a weekly attendance of two thousand or greater. Interesting, twenty two churches across a country with thirty three million people. My own fellowship published stats the very same week showing out of 1000 churches, 41 percent were churches with 50 people or less. The perception definitely is miles away from reality. I am connecting with more and more pastors who are coming to realize small is normal, good and God blessed. Thanks again for you ministry Karl.

  2. I pastor a pretty vibrant small church and I have been advocated for re-visioning what it means to be vibrant – large numbers in worship and lots of baptisms each year do not necessarily mean vibrancy. Thanks for this thoughtful article.

  3. important insights, just as villages, towns, suburbs and major cities are all different, so are churches…one size doesn’t fit all, and bigger doesn’t mean better….have had an opportunity to serve in inner city, small town and suburban churches and each one had its strength and important role… thanks

  4. What are the statistics for small vs large churches in the United States? This is a worldwide study, and equating a small church in the United States to a small church in Africa or Asia is like saying apples and oranges are the same thing.

    1. That’s a great question, Greg. I typically stay away from citing American stats because 1) this ministry is read internationally, and 2) we Americans have a tendency to navel-gaze. I think it’s time to see the world beyond our borders more clearly – especially in the church.

      Nevertheless, as I said, it is a valid question. But the stats in America are not as different from the rest of the world as you’d think – less apples to oranges, more Gala apples to Fuji apples.

      The average church size internationally is about 40-60 people. In the US, the average is about 70-80 people. I’m giving ballpark numbers because church size stats are notoriously loose. There are no solid numbers, especially from smaller churches, house churches, etc., because many of them don’t report to anyone. The numbers for smaller congregations are vastly under-reported because of this. I think if we knew the real numbers, the average congregation size would actually be much lower..

      Anyway, taking international factors into account, you could probably change the median number in the first segment of the infographic to 400 in the US, and 300 in countries outside the US. That wouldn’t change the premise of the infographic, and it doesn’t impact the other segments at all.

      Even in the US, small churches are driving the growth and health of the church more than we realize. This link to an article by Neil Cole will give you some stats on that. http://www.churchplanting.com/is-bigger-really-better-the-statistics-actually-say-no/#axzz2qU0Y8eZz

  5. Karl, I really enjoyed the visual aspect of this. It helped me see it so much clearer. I guess that means I am more of a visual kinda guy. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Virgil. The visuals make a big difference, don’t they? I put three articles worth of info into this one graphic. It takes a lot more work, but it sure gets the point across. Glad you like it.

  6. You need to follow the trend line and apply some basic discernment which is lacking in the above article.
    A church which formerly had 200 on a Sunday morning (which really is a BIG church given the averages – never mind 350!!) fifteen years ago and now has 20 is not a healthy church.
    A church with 20 heading for 50 may well be a very healthy church.
    Why were 180 people driven away from the old church?
    Why are more people finding Christ lived out in a small church? You can’t find these answers in an infographic.

    1. Hi, K. Thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right. None of those points were made in the infographic. But that wasn’t its intent. The infographic was meant give a snapshot, not offer any deeper discernment. It would have to be a REALLY big infographic to cover all that ground.

      I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that issues of church health and growth, similar to the ones you raised, have been addressed by me in much greater depth in previous articles. A good place to start might be with a list of my posts I call “The Essentials”. They can be found by clicking the red “Read These First” button at the top of this page, or by following this link. http://newsmallchurch.com/start-here/read-these-first/

  7. Karl, i have a question, for clarity’s sake.

    Is your 350

    1. Sunday attendance of everyone including children

    2. Membership – not formal membership but everyone who says they attend that church, whether it be weekly, monthly or occasionally.

    In Australia pastors tend to quote No 2 when quoting numbers as formal church membership is not a part of our culture these days. We are a highly secular nation and if people say they are a member of such and such a church they will generally be an attending member.


    1. Hi John. That’s a great question. I would use #1 for that, but not everyone does. That’s one of many reasons, as I mentioned in the footnote of this post, that the 350 median number is highly disputed and I think it is high. Church stats are notoriously unreliable because one church reports actual attendance, another church reports general membership and of course, there are possibly millions of house churches in every country that don’t make it onto anyone’s records. Those would lower the median number even further.

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