Names And Numbers: The Big/Small Church Leadership Difference

Our leadership conversations tend to be more about names when a church is smaller and more about numbers as a church gets bigger. Here's why.

One of the primary differences between big and small churches is that big church leaders spend more time talking about numbers, while small church leaders spend more time talking about names.

  • Attendance Drop? In a big church they wonder why they’re down 15% over last year. In a small church they miss the Mantone family.
  • Volunteerism? In a big church they assess what percentage of attendees are on a ministry team. In a small church they remind Des to lock up, since she’s subbing for Artie while he’s on vacation.
  • Stage Setup? In a big church, make your request a month in advance so the tech, worship and design teams can coordinate. In a small church, the pastor asks Louis to drop by the Ramirez’ house to pick up their blue couch to use as a sermon illustration on Sunday.

These are broad strokes, to be sure. Pastors of big churches have big hearts and are just as concerned for people as their small-church counterparts. And there are certainly many numbers-obsessed pastors in small churches.

But as a general rule, our leadership conversations tend to be more about names when a church is smaller and more about numbers as a church gets bigger.

Why The Big/Small Language Gap?

So why bring this up?

For a couple of reasons.

First, it’s important to recognize this language gap when big and small church pastors talk with each other. Without it, there can be a great deal of unnecessary and unhelpful criticism. Not because anyone’s doing anything wrong, but because we don’t understand each other’s worlds.

A small church pastor who isn’t concerned with numbers isn’t being lazy or inattentive. And a big church pastor who can’t recall people’s names isn’t uncaring. Click To Tweet

A small church pastor who isn’t concerned with numbers isn’t being lazy or inattentive. And a big church pastor who can’t recall people’s names isn’t uncaring. They simply operate differently when it comes to names and numbers because of the relative sizes of the congregations they serve.

Second, the way you approach names and numbers can often be a big clue about the size of church that will best suit your gifts, calling and effectiveness. For instance, a lead pastor in a small church who constantly assesses annual percentage shifts might fit better as an executive pastor at a larger church, while a hands-on small church pastor who knows everyone’s name is right where they belong.

We Need Names And Numbers

Numbers matter.

Names matter more.

Spending more time processing the numbers doesn’t mean you don’t care about people, the lives, their needs, or their names.

Numbers or names. Counting or conversations. Some leaders are better at one than the other. The church needs both. Click To Tweet

Likewise, remembering people’s names and spending hours with church members may limit your capacity for numerical increase, but it doesn’t mean you’re unconcerned about growing the ministry. Growth will simply look different for the church you serve.

Numbers or names.

Counting or conversations.

Some leaders are better at one than the other.

The church needs both.


(Photo by Mike Haupt | Unsplash)

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