Very rarely does a church grow larger than 150 (plus or minus). Very many are smaller, and a handful are larger – they tend to be the ones we have heard about, so if we are not careful we assume they are the norm. But they are not.
The pattern seems to be that a church begins with a lift, grows to around that number and then stabilises.
It’s a classic S-curve.
There are two ways to think ahead with that information.
One is to say that, as a sociological observation, it points to the limits of our relational capacity. That’s about the number of individuals some-one can know with any responsibility, and if that one person’s the pastor, then that explains the cap.
If most people are comfortable in that relational range, then we need to have a church planting strategy that aims to produce many more churches of around that size. Rather than blaming ourselves for failing to live up to a fantasy, we can accept the norm, and work towards multiplying such churches. We also have to make sure that our churches don’t harden at around that size, but remain easy to join, and welcoming.
That takes intentional action.
The other route is to say that, as another sociological observation, those churches which have grown larger, tend have done so by making one of several key decisions. Often those are to do with staffing, which expands the relational span of the leadership, or developing lay leaders. Defying the S-curve means knowingly making some key decisions, and we’ll come back to that in the future.
But those are also intentional actions.
So if it is true that growing larger churches is the gift of a small number of unusual church leaders, then we need to multiply the number of churches which can be led by the rest of us. Intentionally, plant, plant, plant. And we work at being highly relational churches and leaders, playing to the strengths of our size. We work with the S-curve. We learn to love the advantages of our plateau so much we want many more churches to expierence it.
Both ways of thinking ahead on this are good.
But – if you’re a pastor – are you happy being the cork in the bottle? If the size of your church is determined by your relational limit, how could you expand that? I know of one pastor who was determined to bust that statistic, so he set up 5×3 index cards with the photos and details of each of his church members, and revised them each week so that he knew more than 150 by name; he stopped at around 2000… Yes, he’s one of those unusually gifted pastor, but as so often, it’s not the gift, but the hard work in one direction which makes a difference.
Which might mean there are more of those unusual pastors around, if they knew what to do…