Five Major Developments for Churches with an Attendance Under 250

The news is astounding.

Churches with fewer than 250 in average worship attendance account for 92 percent of all churches in the United States. At Church Answers, we call these congregations “standard churches” because they represent all but 8 percent of churches.

It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to discern what important trends and developments are taking place that have direct bearing on standard churches. Here are five major developments.

1. There will likely be a migration to neighborhood and rural churches. We are certainly aware that the greater majority of attendees are in larger churches.  But we are also aware that the post-quarantine era introduced a greater desire not to commute as much, as well as not to travel as much for other activities. A number of people also moved to the quieter life of smaller towns and rural areas. The opportunity is great to reach both these new residents and those willing to go to a smaller church.

2. Larger churches are growing by getting smaller. The multisite movement is a dramatic shift from church practices 20 years ago. Indeed, almost all of the largest churches in America grew by increasing their number of sites rather than growing at one location. The leaders of these churches know that growth must be horizontal rather than vertical. They understand that attendees prefer smaller congregations or, at least, smaller gatherings.

3. One person can lead a dramatic and positive change in a standard church. We are incredibly encouraged to hear about one or a few people leading substantive changes in a congregation. Here is a comment from a recent article I wrote: “I prayed for five visitors to come to church and ten came. I confess, I was shocked and so were the people in my small church. I have renewed zeal for what God calls me to do. I listen to and read everything you guys put out. I complained no one is doing anything to help our church and I heard Sam say it starts with you! So, I am knocking on doors. You said if you invite they will come. They are! Thank you, Church Answers!”

4. Standard churches now have opportunities to educate and train their own members. Standard churches in the past had to hire people from outside the church if they wanted someone with theological training. There are now many options with digital resources to provide education and training on the church field (see our fast-growing Church Answers University, for example: www.ChurchAnswers.University).

5. Evangelism is returning to many standard churches. These churches are reaching and will reach people with the gospel as the leaders and members respond in obedience to the Great Commission. Evangelism is not the purview of a larger church only; it is the command for all churches and all Christians.

Some see nothing but problems with many standard churches. I see an abundance of hope and promise. 

God is not done with you or your church.

Posted on December 19, 2022

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • The perspective of our synagogues, which have a parallel challenge, seems a little different. Nobody gets close to 250 worshippers except on the fall Holy Days when some places get 1000, while we, the Orthodox get maybe 150. Saturday morning we get less than thirty, our Conservative neighbors maybe 50, 35 in person, 15 on Zoom, amid a much larger dues paying membership. Our congregation, and all the others, serve essentially a county, which crosses many neighborhoods. While a few people can have outsized influence, our yiddish vernacular for those people, machers, is largely an unflattering term, often more a manipulator than a hero. Our region is not going to change. Socializing our own members is also a mixed bag, creating more accountability perhaps, but also making sure our doors open inward when we really need to have them open outward. There is an enormous gradient between our 30 people each week and how a sanctuary would likely sparkle more with 100 or the demarcation 250. The challenge is really getting those thirty from being deterrents to the next five.

  • This article is wonderfully encouraging while also challenging. THANK YOU. I’ll share widely!

  • Larry Webb says on

    I really enjoyed the article. Not because you mentioned my comment but because God will use us if we let Him. Thank you Thom for a great organization. I can’t wait to see what God will do next!!
    I am so blessed to get the scholarship also. Thanks.

  • Being a rural pastor, I hope you’re correct about #1. It’s really frustrating when I see people drive an hour to a megachurch in another community when there are plenty of good local churches who could use their help. When you ask them why they don’t attend churches nearer their homes, they invariably reply, “Those churches don’t have many children or youth”, or “They don’t have any people my age.” Here’s an idea: why not join one of the smaller churches and help them build up their children’s, youth, and young adult ministries? Alas, with the church member today, that idea tends to get the Maynard G. Krebs reaction: “WORK?!!!!”

    • “Alas, with the church member today…”

      That comment should read, “Alas, with *a lot of* church members today….” I didn’t mean to paint with too broad a brush. My bad!

      • Ben Craver says on

        Maynard G. Krebs! Haven’t heard that name since, oh, 1959-63. You might want to identify who that “gentleman” is for anyone under 70! But, your connection of his work ethic with some in the church is pretty “far out.”