Can a Church Be Too Big?
“Do you think a church can be too big?” That is a question that was posed to me by a church leader. I have been privileged to minister in churches of all conceivable sizes as well as to serve on the staffs and as interim pastor in churches that ranged in attendance from less than fifty to well over 4,000 in weekly worship participation. Churches of every size possess unique advantages and disadvantages that I have come to appreciate over the years.
Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame baseball player and coach once remarked: “No one ever goes to that restaurant any more. It is always too crowded!” Apparently, a lot of people enjoy attending larger churches and that accounts for why they are so big. Should a congregation be small, medium, or large? The Bible never prescribes the ideal size of a local congregation. There is no “wrong size” church. Thom Rainer recently pointed to a move toward smaller worship gatherings as a growing trend. Many people avoid attending larger churches because they have a deep concern for the relationships and the intimacy that a smaller congregation can provide. This desire for closeness is a legitimate need.
Can a church be too big? It can for “some” people. You could also ask, “Can a church be too small?” Again, it can be for “some” people though the Bible does not say. It is not the size of the church that makes the difference. It is the size of God that matters most. God does big things through small churches. The reality is that opportunities for ministry and evangelism are actually enhanced by the fact that congregations come in all sizes. People are internally wired with differing combinations of temperament, experience, culture, education, personality, giftedness, intellect, and preferences. The differing blends create a variety of needs. Some people’s needs can best be met by a smaller congregation while others can be addressed more effectively by larger churches.
Every congregation, regardless of size, has a responsibility to obey the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. All congregations should seek to make disciples by engaging the members in prayer, evangelism, equipping, fellowship, worship, and ministry in the same manner that the earliest congregations did as described in Acts 2:42-47. It is often easier to minister to everyone in a small congregation and it can be easier to reach larger numbers of people for Christ with the leadership assets of a larger congregation. However, the criteria for responsibility is not based on the size of the congregation, but on the teaching of the scripture.
All congregations, large and small, should seek to effectively minister to their members as well as to reach out to their community with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The critical question is not, “can a church be too big?” The real question is, “can a church lose focus?” The answer is “yes” whether a congregation is large or small. The aim is to provide personal ministry to the members while proclaiming the message of salvation to the community without neglecting either. That is a great challenge for a congregation of any size. I challenge you to leverage your leadership to engage your members in doing both whether your church is large or small. The size of the congregation will resolve itself if the focus is correct!