I’ve pastored three small churches in 30 years of pastoral ministry.
Five years at a tiny chapel in the redwoods that grew from a dozen to 50.
Less than two years at a church of around 120.
Twenty-three years and counting at a church that grew from less than 35 to 200 – with short seasons of almost 400, under 100, then a hard road back to 200.
(This post answers a question that was raised in my previous post, You May Be a Small Church Pastor and Not Even Know It.)
Sometimes 200 Seems Like a Big Church
If you pastor a church of fewer than 50 people, the fact that I refer to a church of 200 as small may surprise you. 200 in your situation may seem huge. In fact, 200 may be bigger than the biggest church in your town or county.
I know, because I’ve had many conversations about this. And I've read the comments on social media whenever someone refers to a church of 200 as small.
“200 is small? Really? That makes me laugh. Try 20. That’s small.”
“200 may be small if you live in a big city, but where I live, 200 is huge.”
“If you think 200 is a small church, try pastoring a church of 32 for a while.”
I get it. Including the pain behind angrier outbursts than those.
I've pastored in big cities and small towns. I’ve been “stuck” at 20, 50, 75, 120 and 200 for significant periods of time. (For more thoughts on stuckness, read How to Tell If a Small Church Is Strategic or Stuck.)
But I still consider 200 to be a small church. So do most church leadership experts, no matter the size of your community, or of the other churches in it. Here are five reasons why:
1. Churches of 200 and under share similar leadership styles
This is the biggest reason for calling churches small when we’re under 200.
No matter the size of your community or the churches in it, churches under 200 are primarily pastored by the pastor (unless it's a house church).
Over 200, the pastor can no longer know most or all of the people, and has to entrust more of the pastoral care to others.
But pastors of 20 to 200 know what it’s like to get the midnight call to rush to the hospital. We've unplugged toilets because no one else was there to do it. And hundreds of other tasks no seminary ever trained us for.
2. Churches of 200 and under face similar frustrations
Most church leadership resources are designed for churches that have at least some full-time paid staff. They can attend conferences and staff meetings. They have adequate time for sermon prep, worship practice, youth camps, and so on.
But every 200-and-under pastor knows the frustrations of not having quite enough time. And not being able to find the resources to help us do it better.
We've also had our hearts broken by people who leave the church after we've invested untold hours into them. The bigger a church grows, the more attendance is about statistics. Under 200 it's about relationships.
3. Churches of 200 and under offer similar benefits
It's easy to see the benefits in big churches. But that doesn't mean small churches have nothing to offer.
For example, one of the primary reasons people go to smaller churches is that they can be pastored by their pastor. They can know the pastor personally, and be known by the pastor.
200-and-under churches can also offer a closer family feel, more chances for everyone's voice to be heard and many other blessings that get harder to find as churches get bigger.
The benefits offered by churches of 200 have a lot more overlap with churches of 50 (or less) than they do with churches of 500 (or larger).
4. Churches of 200 and under are normal-sized
Ninety-percent of churches are under 200. The ten percent of churches that are larger are outliers. The bigger they get, the greater the difference from smaller churches.
Church growth is great. It should be celebrated. But church growth above 200 isn’t typical.
If your church is under 200, you’re not broken, you’re normal.
5. Churches of 200 and under need each other
Should we stop trying to learn church growth from those over 200? No. We should always strive for growth and learn from everyone we can.
But if we’re only learning from leaders of big churches, we’re missing out on a lot.
To get some help from those in the trenches with us, check out the great stuff from Jeff & Jonny at 200Churches.com, where they call a 200Church "a church of around 200 people, give or take a hundred or two."
Whether your church is 20, 50, 100, 200 or somewhere in between, we’re not that different from each other.
Let’s learn from those who have pushed past growth barriers. But let’s not forget the valuable lessons that can only be learned from those who share our struggles. And our blessings.
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.