Sometimes it seems like the divide between big and small churches is so vast it’s almost insurmountable.
And it’s increasing, not diminishing.
Why is that happening? And why has the divide has become especially large in the last few decades?
I think it has to do with the advent of the megachurches. Not that they’re bad. They aren’t. But the massive difference in size between megachurches and the typical church is causing an unintentional rift that we need to pay attention to.
Why The Growth Gap Has Increased
A generation ago, the average church in most towns or cities was about 50-75 people, but the biggest church in town was seldom over 500. Even in large, heavily churched cities it was rare to find a church over 1,000.
With numbers at those levels, the biggest church had a larger choir, more staff and more ministry departments than the average size church, but otherwise the way they operated was not dramatically different.
Now, with the advent of megachurches, all that has changed.
If you live in a big city today, it’s not unusual to have churches of over 5,000 near you. Sometimes even 10,000, 20,000 or more. But the average church size is still 50-75.
When the numbers are that extreme, megachurches are operating under a vastly different set of management principles and far more complex systems than the typical church. They have to. If you’re trying to coordinate the movement of thousands of people every weekend (or every day) the systems must be highly advanced and precise.
As megachurches master those systems, they become capable of getting even bigger. Then they teach what they’re learning to other church leaders who use those principles in their churches.
Why Even The Small To Midsize Gap Is Bigger
Today, if you’re pastoring a church of 500 or so, many of the megachurch systems can be adapted to your size, often bringing greater growth.
But if you pastor a church of 50, 100, or even 250, most megachurch-style methods simply don’t translate to your context. The leadership principles and relational dynamics are just too different.
One of the unintended consequences of this size dynamic is that the church of 500 is not just bigger than the average size church any more. Because they’re adapting systems based on the megachurch model, the ministry gap between them and the average size church is expanding dramatically.
It’s no longer a matter of a few more staff members or ministry teams. The way they do ministry is often poles apart.
Acknowledging The Growth Gap
This is no one’s fault. It’s an unintended consequence of growth, size and the newer systems and methods required at new levels of attendance.
But the distance it creates is not good. It’s leaving small churches and their leaders feeling even more ignored, isolated and belittled than usual.
This is a problem that needs to be addressed.
How? I don’t know.
But I do know this. If we don’t acknowledge the expanding growth gap, we’ll never be able to deal with it, and the divide will become bigger. And if we approach it with blame or shame the divide will become meaner, too.
The body of Christ needs churches of all sizes.
Big churches meet the needs of some people to worship, connect and minister. Small churches are the best way to help others do those same essential aspects of Christian life.
While we’re learning new ways to do big church better we can’t forget to encourage, resource and work alongside small churches, too.
Copyright © 2018 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.