When Is a Bigger Church a Better Church?

NumbersI love big churches. I think they’re great.

Obviously, I love small ones, too.

Because I minister to Small Churches, I’m often asked, “aren’t you worried, that by supporting Small Churches you’ll be encouraging churches that could grow, to stay small instead?”

Yes. That is a concern. One that I’ve addressed in The Grasshopper Myth and in several posts including, Small Churches Are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse.

But I also have to answer that question by asking one of my own. It’s one that’s almost never considered. Namely, “aren’t you worried, that by supporting individual congregational growth, you’ll be encouraging churches that should stay small, to get bigger instead?”

I know. It’s weird to even read that question, isn’t it?

Before we go any further, let me state again that I’m not against church growth. I very much support it as an essential element in fulfilling the Great Commission. But as I wrote in, Are You Serious about Worldwide Church Growth? Support Small Churches, true church growth (that is, as a percentage of the population) doesn’t always mean bigger churches. Sometimes it means a whole lot of smaller ones.


When We Assume…

But we almost never ask those questions.

Instead, we make assumptions. I hate assumptions.

And there may be no bigger assumption being made in church leadership today than this.

We assume a bigger church is a better church without ever asking if this is really true. 

I regularly read blog posts and books about how to break through church size barriers. But I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone say why a bigger church is a better idea. It’s just assumed.

Is it a wise assumption? Is a big church always better than a small one? Usually better? Sometimes better? .

The quick answer is yes. Sometimes a big church is better than a small one. Sometimes it’s even better than having a whole lot of Small Churches. But not always.

Yet, we’ll never know if 10,000 people going to 100 Small Churches is ever a better alternative than 10,000 people going to one big church, unless we stop making assumptions and start asking real questions. Questions that allow for the possibility that in some places – maybe many places – a bunch of healthy Small Churches may be a better recipe for church growth and community impact than having one or two big churches.


When Smaller and Bigger Work Together

In addition to “why isn’t this church getting bigger?”, we need to ask better questions about church size. Questions like, “is bigger really better in this situation? Or would a multiplication of healthy Small Churches be a better way to reach this area with the Gospel?”

We’ll never know the answer if we don’t ask that question. But we almost never ask that question!

In a previous post, Big Cities Need Great Small Churches, Too, I proposed the almost-unheard-of idea that, even in highly populated regions, having a whole lot of healthy Small Churches is not a problem, but a necessary tool in reaching more people with the Gospel. In many neighborhoods, smaller will work better than bigger.

No, I’m not saying big is bad, or that smaller is better.

I’m saying let’s recognize what’s best about different sizes in different situations. Then let’s do what’s best, not just what’s biggest.


So what do you think? Have you ever made the “bigger is better” or the “smaller is better” assumption?

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(Numbers photo from morebyless • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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1 thought on “When Is a Bigger Church a Better Church?”

  1. I continue to enjoy these thought-provoking articles. I attend a small (50-75 people, not all of them officially recognized members) Methodist church and we are going through a phase right now where we are trying to figure out how to become a more fruitful congregation. Unfortunately, most people think that requires larger numbers as well as spiritual growth, so the same core group has more and more piled upon them in an effort to reach these new growth targets.

    I think that small groups can be effective in their growth plans without becoming so overwhelmingly large. Keep up the great work!

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