Elephants and mice: Do churches have to choose between the benefits of being large or small?



Leaders like it large

  • At our best, leaders like it large because that means more people are hearing, believing and maturing in the gospel.  More people have found a spiritual home.   More people are exercising their gifts in ministry  More people are giving their lives in Christ’s service. More resources can be raised and deployed in reaching a lost world.
  • At our silliest, we like it large because it validates us, puts us on the platform, and gives a counter-narrative to a secular society.  Those ego-driven needs easily shade into sin.
  • But we benefit from larger churches.  If you’re running an evangelistic course at the moment, the chances are it was developed with the resources and excellence of a larger church behind it.


Members like it small

  • At our best, members like it small because  relationships, friendships, are easier in a circle than a crowd.  Remembering 80 people is easier than remembering 250. Recognising someone is hurting, or delighted, or praising, or needs some truth, is simpler when you know everyone.
  • At our silliest, we like it small because we control it, guard it, and shape it in a way we like. Everything around us changes, but this place, these chairs, these coffee cups are ours. Those ego-driven needs easily shade into sin.
  • But we benefit from smaller churches.  There’s a reason why most churches don’t race past the 200 barrier, and most of them hover below 75;  they are human scale, where we can know and be known, and pastors know all their sheep.

At our best, we leaders know why our members like it small.

At our best, we members know why our leaders call us to grow.


But can they live together?

In the world of cartoons elephants are scared of mice.

I suspect that in the real world, mice get squished by elephants.

They’re not best buddies

But I’m convinced that in church-world they can and should live together.  A larger church can and should work at embedding the biblical values of fellowship and love in our gatherings – and that has to mean a significant focus in the small group structures. Self-indulgence in the big event is selfishness. And smaller churches should have an equivalent gentle restlessness wth the status quo.  Self-centredness in the small event is also selfishness.

But together, we can inspire and change each other, and embed the best of each other’s habits in our own churches.

Pile in!


9 comments on “Elephants and mice: Do churches have to choose between the benefits of being large or small?”

  1. What’s the optimum size for a Church? I don’t know, and temperamentally probably lean towards smaller. I’ve heard it said in numerous forums that 250 – 275 is large enough, allowing everyone space to function and flourish. And after that size a church should look to plant another. Do you have any thoughts on this? Thanks, as ever for your blog.

    1. I’m not sure there is an optimal size – thousands were baptised on Pentecost, and they met in the temple courts and homes! Rather, we need to realise that there are benefits and costs to a number of kinds of size, and either be content with the costs as they are, or do something to counterbalance them.

    1. We benefit from the resources they generate and the specialists they can afford to employ. Christianity Explored, EMA, Word Alive – large church initiatives to bless the rest of us!

      1. Hmm. Most of the resources don’t work so well for small churches and most of the conference’s etc, by being set up by large churches don’t cater very well for small churches. Most of the books are written by people who don’t understand small churches. Just saying…That stuff isn’t what we need. We need large churches to have the courage to devote a substantial part of their budget to help small churches and a sizeable number of their people. I know it’s said time and again, but that’s because it’s what we need and what is almost never given.

      2. Interesting – I found that the 1:1 resources worked really well (e.g., Just for Starters), and I used CE as baptism prep – both big church productions.

      3. Is it too obvious to say that CE costs money and 1-1 resources cost money? The way the course is set up to be run assumes that you can be constantly buying new resources. That’s not really larger churches resourcing smaller churches…We can’t even afford to get Bibles for the churches. While I’ve have used elements of CE and we’re going to use DE next term (basically at my personal cost), they usually need some pretty radical reshaping. It’s not just a large/small thing, but a north/south, posh/not posh, university educated/not university educated, London/not London etc. thing. That said the small/large distinction does map onto those distinctions.

      4. All those other distinctions are really important, and you’re right that we are not addressing them well (though I guess you’ve seen what 20Schemes is up to in Scotland).

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