The Strong Little Church
Smaller churches do as well as larger churches in all key areas but one, according to analyst Christian A. Schwarz. That bodes well for the future of those in the shadow of mega-ministries.
Surveying 1,000 churches in 32 countries, he found eight principles of health in churches around the world, regardless of size, culture, or denomination.
The resulting "natural church development" approach has prompted debate among the experts worldwide. American pastors are starting to notice the observations of someone with an international perspective. Schwarz heads the Institute of Church Development in Germany.
Turned off by what he calls "technocratic thinking" in the church, Schwarz is bullish on smaller congregations. His research tells him that's where the action is. But Schwarz spies signs of reformation among churches of all sizes, which he discussed with LEADERSHIP's Craig Brian Larson.
We're hearing increased use of the term "church health" by those who would have until recently talked about "church growth." What will health look like in the coming decade?
I see two things. First is an emphasis on pursuing quality, not as against quantity, but as the strategic root for quantity.
Once you understand what it means to set qualitative goals, to pursue them, and to measure periodically whether you have reached these qualitative goals, this will have a tremendous effect.
Second is a shift to the relevance of small churches. One of our most surprising discoveries is that (while there are some notable exceptions) the bigger a church grows, the worse it becomes both in quality and in its capability to reach new people for Christ. In few ways is the bigger church a better church.
How do small churches outperform large churches?
One example is the percentage of people who practice their spiritual gifts to help their church grow. In churches with less than 100 in attendance, it's 31 percent. You can say that's not much. But if you compare that with churches of over 1,000 in attendance, which average only 17 percent, you see there is a decline in quality. In all areas except one, the quality decreases with the size of the church.
Small churches outperform
large churches in
seven out of the eight categories.
What's the one exception?
We measured eight quality characteristics: empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. Larger churches do better than smaller churches only in creating more inspiring worship services.
This makes sense. In a crowd of 5,000, to sing worship songs and to have higher quality music is more inspiring than being together with eight other people and a guitarist who can play only three chords.