By Neil Cole
There are millions of people in smaller congregations across the country who live with a feeling that they are failures because their church isn’t as big as the megaplex congregation down the street. This is sad and should not be the case.
A global survey conducted by Christian Schwartz found that smaller churches consistently scored higher than large churches in seven out of eight qualitative characteristics of a healthy church. A more recent study of churches in America, conducted by Ed Stetzer and Life Way Ministries, revealed that churches of two hundred or less are four times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of one thousand or more. The research seems to even indicate that the pattern continues—the smaller the size of the church the more fertile they are in planting churches.
It pains me that so many churches and leaders suffer from an inferiority complex when in fact they could very well be more healthy and fruitful than the big-box church down the street.
I am not suggesting that the mega church is something we need to end, I am simply saying that we need other kinds of churches to truly transform our world. I also do not want people in huge churches to think that just because they have more people and more money that they are more blessed by God. The stats tell us that ten smaller churches of 100 people will accomplish much more than one church of 1000.
Christian Schwarz says:
“The growth rate of churches decreased with increasing size. This fact in and of itself came as no great surprise, because in large churches the percentages represent many more people. But when we converted the percentages into raw numbers, we were dumbfounded. Churches in the smallest size category (under 100 in attendance) had won an average of 32 new people over the past five years; churches with 100-200 in worship also won 32; churches between 200-300 average 39 new individuals; churches between 300-400 won 25. So a ‘small’ church wins just as many people for Christ as a ‘large’ one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 in worship on Sunday will win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.”
Schwarz found that the average growth rate in smaller churches was 13% (over five years), whereas in larger churches it was a mere 3%. A small church in the NCD sample with an average attendance of fifty-one typically converted thirty-two persons in five years; megachurches in the NCD sample averaged 2,856 in attendance but converted only 112 new persons in five years. The same number of persons participating in fifty-six small churches averaging fifty-one in attendance would have produced 1,792 converts in five years.
I know such extrapolations in some ways mean little. I also know that conversions is not the whole picture. My point is that we need to stop seeing smaller churches as less successful. The trend currently is seeing the closing down of smaller churches as larger ones increase in size and number and I think this could be an alarming trend given the actual facts when we measure true influence.
When I mention statistics like these I am often criticized as being a mega church hater, and that is not fair. I am not a hater. I am not a bride-basher because I love the groom too much.
It is hard for me to feel sorry for the mega churches when this information confronts them given that they are so often lifted up as the height of success–often at the expense of the smaller church around the corner. My advice: Get over it. I am not thrashing the mega church here, I am simply saying that smaller churches are necessary, needed, and often more fruitful than we have been led to believe. And they often feel less significant in the shadows of their much larger sister around the corner. Lets look at the truth and accept it for what it is and strive to do whatever it takes to make a difference in this world.
Neil Cole blogs for ChurchPlanting.com and is the founder and executive director of Church Multiplication Associates & CMAResources, which has helped start hundreds of churches in thirty-five states and thirty nations. He is seen by many to be one of the key founders of what is known as the organic or simple-church movement. One of the key training components of this expanding movement is the Organic Church Planter’s Greenhouse – Story 1 and Story 2 Trainings. Read More About Neil Cole At His Author Page