What Is A Small Church? (An Updated Definition)

There are two types of small churches. The church of 50 (give or take 50) and the church of 150 (give or take 50). Each has different strengths, needs and ways of being led. Both matter.
KarlVaters.com What Is A Small Church?

“How do you define a small church?”

It’s one of my most-asked question, perhaps surpassed only by “How Do You Define A Healthy Church Aside From The Numbers?” My answer to that question will be in this article.

But for now . . .

How I Used To Define “Small Church”

In my first book, The Grasshopper Myth, I defined a small church this way:

Numerically, the boundaries between churches of each size are fairly fluid, but here’s what I mean by the following:

House Church: Less than 25 (and meeting in a house)
Small Church: 25 – 350 (or under 25 meeting in a church building)
Big Church: 350 – 2,000
Megachurch: Over 2,000

Within some categories, church size distinctions could be broken down even further. For instance, there are clearly two distinct levels of Small Churches. A typical Small Church is 25 – 200, while churches from 200 – 350 might be called midsize.

From The Grasshopper Myth, Chapter 3: Stop Thinking Like A Big Church

A lot has changed in the years since I wrote that book in 2013. Today I keep churches of 200-350 exclusively in the midsize church category and never as a subset of small churches. I’ll change that if I ever update the book.

In the subtitle of my second book, Small Church Essentials, I defined “small church” as a congregation of under 250. That’s better and it was about as good as I could do in the limited space of a subtitle, but it’s still not the best definition of a small church.

A New Definition Of “Small Church”

Today I describe a small church differently, taking more of the real-world small-church nuances into account. So here’s my new (and better) definition.

There are two types of small churches.

  • First, there’s the church of 50 (give or take 50)
  • Then there’s the church of 150 (give or take 50)

Each type of small church has different strengths, needs and ways of being led.

If you’re pastoring church of 20, you’ve probably already done the simple addition that tells you I still include a church of 200 as small. That may feel way off the mark. After all, in a lot of small towns there may not be a single church as big as 200.

I appreciate that reality. And I’m aware that a church of 20 is a far more typical congregation than a church of 200. But here’s why they both qualify as small.

There are certainly a a lot of differences between a church of 20 and a church of 200. But when it comes to pastoring, fellowshipping and organizational structure, a church of 200 has more in common with a church of 20 than it does with a church of 500.

The Difference At 200

There are several reasons for that, but the biggest one is simple: from 20 to 200, it’s possible for a hands-on pastor to know every regular attender by name. Over 200 it’s simply not possible any more. And that changes the way we lead the church in some very significant ways.

This new definition of “small church” guides the way we write, speak, and provide resources.

There will be times when we’ll make a distinction between the church of 50 (give or take 50) and the church of 150 (give or take 50), but for the most part we’ll be addressing the needs and strengths that both of those churches have in common.

This allows us to minister to more churches and to help us all speak a common leadership language, share common ideas, and be there for each other.

“Small church” may be a fluid term, and you may not even agree with my current definition of it. But wherever we land on the numbers, your church matters.

We’re in this together.


(Photo by Sylvain Brisson | Unsplash)


Want to reprint this article? Click here for permission. (This protects me from copyright theft.)

Share or Print this!