Does it matter what size church you attend? For example, which is of more use and impact in your life, a church of 50 or a church of 500? Or, which is more crucial to your walk with Jesus Christ, a church of 20 or a church of 2,000? Do you feel a little uncomfortable in a church of only a few members and more comfortable in a church with a sea of members? Recently some new people to our church told me that when they first came to Berean, “We did not feel the size of the church”. As a pastor of a church of about 25, that was a very interesting comment to me. This couple had moved here from another city outside of Montana. They had gone to a church that had regular attendance of 2,000-2,500 yet they continue to attend in spite of a 99% drop in attendance. Interestingly, after their first visit, they calculated the population of the city their previous church is in and the size of the church, and found that our church was just as proportionate in size to the population as their old church. So, I guess we are right on schedule.
The question of church size is a real topic for many, however, as I will show, it is a ruse. It is a smoke screen that tends to hide or distract a person from the real reasons God designed the church in the first place.
The question I would ask proponents of the large church is, ‘what is the purpose of the church according to the Bible’? Why does the church exist? There may be many answers to this question, however for our purposes, I want us to consider that the primary function of the church is to be conformed to the image and likeness of her Head, Jesus Christ. A few key passages will steer our thinking toward this conclusion:
19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
If the writings of the Apostle Paul are any indication of the purpose of the church, it would appear that being made into the image of Jesus Christ is primary. According to Ephesians 4:11-16, that can only happen in the ministry of the local church under the leadership and ministry of teaching pastors as everyone learns to edify one another. After all, as Romans 8:28-30 indicates, this is God’s eternal purpose for us in Christ, and therefore, is the purpose of the church.
The question is, if that is the case, then can this happen in a small church or can it only happen in a large church? The answer should be obvious. It can happen in both. I will say it again, it can happen in both.
There are advantages to a large, well-run-machine-of-a-church that understands this mandate and how to do it in their context. There are a lot more people to carry the gospel of the kingdom into the world around them. They are typically more disciplined in their organization, forced by the sheer necessity of structure. Also larger churches typically have more resources which allows for a certain amount of involvement in many other ministries and supporting more missionaries, etc…
However, as can happen in that context, there is often a detriment in discipleship as far too many attend a larger church for the sheer numbers without any real commitment to Jesus Christ. Larger churches also tend to allow for elders to treat the church as a business, favoring the easier route of organizational fitness over spiritual truths in the hearts of God’s children. The tenderness, sensitivity, sorrow, and suffering which make up true ministry are often distant from elders of larger churches because of the organizational aspect of managing day-to-day affairs.
There are advantages to a small, more intimate church where relationships between people are more often the focus than the programs dictated by population control in a large church. Smaller churches are often more humble in their approach to ministry because there is nothing to commend them to the community around them. They are simply attempting to preach Christ to their neighbors and family. They often meet on a small budget, if any at all. In our small church we always have lunch together on Sundays. This is always out of our own pockets since the church is rarely in a position to help financially.
Therefore, our meals are more sincere and personal, kind of like a family. In my preaching, I can be more exact in my exhortation as I am very aware of the condition of the lives of God’s people who are listening. Yet, we all long for the day when the church is larger simply because we want more people to know the grace of God and to walk with Him. It is our hunger and we are trying to be patient.
So with the question as to whether church size matters, the answer ultimately is no. I may favor a “small church” because of the intimacy of relationships, but the impact on our area may not be as extensive as it could be if there was more of an “army” of edified, equipped Christians preaching the gospel. Some may favor the flow of a larger church, but they might not be edified as intently as they could be in a more intimate setting. The fact is, both large and small churches can miss the mark.
So ask yourself, why are you attending the church you attend? Are you fed, shepherded, and edified so that you are being grown into the image of Christ daily or do you hide in the numbers? Do you favor a smaller church because of the potential to run the place, or because you understand that a true ministry that is smaller in numbers needs the work and the efforts of everyone and you are willing to serve? But in the end, God’s work is accomplished in both, when, and only when, the leaders are clear on their purpose.