Seven Reasons Why We Need to Move Beyond the Church Size Debate

It is predictable.

Any time I write about anything dealing with church sizes, some of the discussion degenerates into a debate about the best size church. It happened last week when I wrote some positive words about smaller churches. It has happened in the past when I wrote some positive words about megachurches.

We need all churches. All sizes of churches. We need more churches. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. Allow me to point out seven reasons why a debate on church size bears no good fruit.

  1. Church health and church size are not synonymous. There are many healthy small churches. There are many healthy large and megachurches. And there are plenty of unhealthy churches of all sizes.
  2. Conflict is not unique to a particular church size. Indeed some level of conflict is in every church. There are times where conflict is more visible in the smaller church because everyone knows everyone. But that does not mean conflict is not present, and sometimes intense, in larger churches.
  3. Categorical statements are harmful to the body of Christ. “All pastors of large churches care about are the numbers.” “If a small church was doing was it was supposed to do, it wouldn’t be a small church.” Such categorical statements do no good. Indeed, they do harm. Why should we even participate in such conversations?
  4. The body of Christ is diverse; that is good. In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul lauds the diversity of the individual members of the body of Christ. Similarly, there is diversity in the congregations working for His glory. Some of those churches are small. Some are mid-size. Some are large. Some are mega.
  5. The death of churches is not a function of church size. Obviously, a church gets smaller on its way to death. But that does not mean the church size is the cause of the death. It simply means the church is getting smaller as it approaches zero.
  6. Faithfulness and obedience are mandated of all church members. Leave the numerical results to God. He may lead a church to become very large; or He may lead a church to be a standard size church in the community. Neither size is inherently good or inherently bad.
  7. It would be wonderful if churches worked together as much as some churches often criticize others. Our communities may be waiting to see if we churches can work together before the members of the community decide they even want us around.

God gives us small churches. God gives us mid-size churches. God gives us large and very large churches. They are all part of His plan. Let’s stop criticizing each other and start working together.

We may be surprised how God will then use us.

Posted on July 15, 2019

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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  • I would dare to guess that all your reasons are properly justified and approved. This is the best sample of a church we have ever heard about!

  • James "Mac" McLeod says on

    My name is James McLeod. I am working on my Ph.D. in Leadership dissertation prospectus at Dallas Baptist University. Therefore, I am trying to access as much quantitative data as I can in two areas:
    1) Church Revitalization
    2) Biblical Servant Leadership (Which I recognize would involve more qualitative data)

    My calling, having pastored local churches since 1991, is now leading me into researching, writing, consulting, and coaching in the areas of organizational & ministry leadership and revitalization. My dissertation is specifically on church revitalization and biblical servant leadership from a humanities (theological/historical) perspective.

    Any information toward obtaining published statistical data in these two areas would be greatly appreciated.

    Can be contacted at 903-249-2701

  • Gloria VanSkike says on

    I know a church that I first came to know in the early 70’s. Small country church with about 70 active members. Thru the years this church has not grown much beyond that, but, many of the kids grew up & moved away so the numbers do reflect new people. What has been the reason this church keeps going & not dying is the fact that they are true ministers in their community! No one moves into the community that aren’t visited, welcomed, offered assistance in moving, giving welcome gifts & welcomed to the church, but this is not a one time visit, they are now neighbors and care for each other. This is the best example of a church I have ever seen!

  • Dear Thom.

    I have been apart of three explosive church growth situations, as a worship leader and elder, and local preacher (fill-in for the pastor). In 2014, however, I started a church to apply the Bible to every aspect of life, including civics, as opposed to operating under the 501C3 guise of “separation of church and state” that causes us to ignore the Biblical issues America’s Founding Fathers applied to civic moral behavior. We have moved our church twice, once because a sponsoring church found out we were pro-life, and said, “We can have no discussion of political issues on our campus, as we have pro-choice elders.” We advised, “That life begins at conception and tampering with it is murder, which violates 10 Commandment #6, which means it is a Biblical issue, regardless of how politics elbows into Biblical territory.”

    The second time we moved out of another church whose pastor and elder board was assisting us, but the church council re-wrote the church constitution, giving power over to themselves, and they advised us we no longer could meet on their campus, as they had signed up their Christian school for Common Core, and I had been on local TV with a dozen New York State legislatures supporting them in opposing it.

    We currently run about 15-25 people in a church service, having started with 42 and then growing to 58 during our first few weeks of operation before moving twice. We have no intention of stopping, and are looking to move back into the area in which we started, where we believe our growth trajectory will be.

    Our mission is stated below in my signature block. We are determined to preach the Bible in way that is consistent with how the “historical body of Christ” (commentators, preachers, etc…) has interpreted Scripture and applied it during both the Pro-Testament Reformation, and to civics within the USA.

    We had Bible-based freedoms in this country, which was provided through the First Amendment linking of Freedom of Religion and Speech, as both are necessary to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission free from harassment by government officials, which the church in America now is experiencing.

    The Declaration of Independence notes we have inalienable rights endowed from our Creator. Aquinas, Hobbs, Blackstone and others noted that those rights are the “natural” rights God secures through the Ten Commandments, meaning we have a right to not be murdered, sexually mistreated, stolen from, lied to nor about etc… We also have a right to worship God the way the first four Commandments says He wants to be worshipped.

    If God does not work through churches like ours to spark a Reformational Revival that calls people to Christ, and disciples them to apply the Bible to every aspect of life, including our civics, there’s no telling how much persecution will accrue to us and our children and possibly their children. Since the 1954 501C3 “policy,” the government grabs a Biblical sin and calls it a political issue of “human rights, such as murdering babies, sexual perversion, misuse of marriage , etc… and the church stops preaching that topic from God’s view of Scripture. The church avoids being salt and light on those issues, and preaches topical sermons with self-help, pop theo-psychology points that avoid applying the Scriptures in ways that would help Christians vote to keep our nation moral and free. Having failed to do so, we now have kids in school being recruited into homosexuality, and drag queens doing the same during story time readings in public libraries.

    Here is a link to Samuel Adams’ “American Independence” speech, delivered by Samuel Adams to the Continental Congress on Aug 1, 1776 to convince America’s Founders to sign the Declaration of Independence they had made published on July 4, 1776. They signed it the day after this speech on Aug 2, 1776!

    Please, just read the third paragraph to reconnect to what America’s Founders knew they were overcoming, which was suppressing the application of the Bible to civics, and what they were achieving in applying The Bible to civics. Adams declares that by voting for the Declaration of Independence, Americans have restored “the Sovereign to Whom alone all men ought to be obedient” (meaning God) to the “throne” of America.

    Contact me Thom, and let’s talk about these issues that are sucking the Biblical moral air out of our society and public institutions, but which can be revived! Watch my “Biblical Basis of The Bill of Rights,” using the link below.

    For Christ and Country,

    Pastor Earl
    [email protected]
    Cell phone: 518-396-9457

    Liberty Christian Fellowship meets Sundays 10:30am
    Youth For Christ Adventure Center, 1544 Rte 9, in Halfmoon, NY 12065
    Write us at PO Box 235, Latham, New York 12110.
    Call us at 518-867-5436.

    Learn About LCF at
    View messages:

    LCF exists to glorify God and teach how we respond to Him as He reveals Himself from Genesis to Revelation!

    LCF stands in the gap to advocate for our God-given, inalienable rights, referenced in The Declaration of Independence, which God secures through The 10 Commandments, which give us the right to not be murdered, sexually molested, stolen from, lied to nor about, and not to have our person’s, people, position and possessions coveted by evil people who would use government power to deny us the blessings God gives us!

    View “The Biblical Basis of The Bill of Rights” at:
    to see how America was founded upon the application of the Bible to civics!

  • William Alan Secrest says on

    How do you make number 7 a reality in your community when you have another denomination or pastor who is embracing sin. I have walked away from my local pastor’s association because one pastor in particular has made it abundantly clear that she is going to embrace the homosexual lifestyle. We are called to love sinners but we are not called to endorse sin. Being ecumenical is wonderful if everyone is on the same theological page.

    • William –

      I would hope there are many churches in the community where you are theologically aligned. There should be plenty of opportunities to work together with them.

    • Disagreeing on some things should not preclude working together for the common good. As for aligning on theology, I have seen churches of Christ not get along or work together because one had a youth group and another had a kitchen. Jesus said if they aren’t against us, they are for us. Some people forgot this.

  • I agree, but I don’t know how we get this across to people in the pews. Evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular have bought into their own brand of the “prosperity gospel”. They seem to think if you’re not a megachurch, then you must be a failure.

    • Steve Smith says on

      I really agree with your comment. I pastored in a small community of about 3,500 people in the early ’70s. Probably 99% of the population belonged to 2 denominations. I pastored a church of 15 people. Four were my family. The towns people wouldn’t come near my church because we weren’t socially acceptable. I was a young pastor & young adults would visit & liked it but the peer pressure was too intense from family & friends to make a commitment . The good news was the people of my church were great. We were truly like a family. It’s difficult to fight social stigma. I imagine it might be like pastoring a church in a Muslim country.

      • Wow! The churches I’ve served are quite large compared to yours, so I guess I should remember that the next time I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself! 🙂 In all seriousness, I’m sure there was a time in my life when I looked down on smaller churches. In fact, when I started my first pastorate, I thought I would go in and show them how it’s done. I’ve been serving small churches for 24 years now, and I’ve realized it’s not that simple. I hate to say it, but many Christians simply think they’re too good for small churches.

      • Gregory L Ross says on

        I don’t think I’m too good for anything. However we all have preferences in music, doctrine, etc. Birds of a feather flock together – I think that is in the Bible? I am looking for thoughtful, challenging and open discussion. The freedom of expression and thought. #1 pastors to insecure, denominations too insecure for this type of roundtable discussion. #2 – Many Christians have lazy minds, only taking in a small river of doctrine – not ever knowing about the subject’s their pastors were schooled in. Logic, critical thinking, philosophy, higher criticism, modernist/fundamentalist controversy, DNA, and on and on. If I go to an adult Sunday school, I don’t want REL 101. I deserve better. God gave me a brain to use. The world is worthy of close examination. Too bad many Christians lock into scripture (they should in REL 101), but they never move out of the rut. Please, anyone reading this – if you can change this please do. Don’t keep your congregation in diapers. On that note: Amen!

      • Lay people who display too much knowledge in church are marked as know-it-alls. I’ve been burned on that enough times. Better to keep it shallow and go with the flow.

  • Thanks Thom,
    So many of us appreciate your ministry. I’ve observed over the years that there is a form of peer pressure among pastors that often times leads to feelings of guilt in pastors of small churches. They often feel insecure about the lack of growth in their church. It’s healthy to evaluate a lack of growth and identify legitimate areas that may be hindering growth, but it’s not healthy to be distressed because of a lack of growth when comparing your church with other churches. We should learn to measure and discuss health in qualitative ways rather than just quantitative ways.

  • Jerry Watts says on

    While I agree with the title and premise of this blog, this is one of those topics which demand more than ‘bullet points.’ I say this from the position of DOM. While your first 4 bullets (and certainly #7) are excellent, need to be read, articulated, and even put to memory for perspective, I find that 5 & 6 might need a little unpacking of your meaning. Here’s why (feel free to help me further, if you feel the need to)
    For instance,
    5. The death of churches is not a function of church size. Obviously, a church gets smaller on its way to death. But that does not mean the church size is the cause of death. It simply means the church is getting smaller as it approaches zero.
    (While church size is not the CAUSE of death, getting to zero in attendance is the finishing act. Certainly, it is just like physical death, something or some kind of disease infected the body causing dysfunction or malfunction of the systems. But when a body (physical or spiritual) wastes away, it does get so puny that it cannot function, then death is imminent)

    6. Faithfulness and obedience are mandated of all church members. Leave the numerical results to God. He may lead a church to become very large; or He may lead a church to be a standard size church in the community. Neither size is inherently good or inherently bad.
    The last sentence is absolutely right on point. Some smaller membership churches are very much ‘on-point’ & ‘on-task’ in fulfilling their scriptural mission and mandate. But let’s not leave out the fact that according to John 15, Faithfulness (which is obedience) and FRUITFULNESS are mandated of all Christ-followers. For years I have been told that “all God requires of us is to be faithful”, yet when I do a faithful study of God’s word, I discover that Jesus reserved His harshest judgment for the ‘unfruitful.’ According to Christ, He is looking for the ‘fruit’, ‘more fruit’, and ‘much fruit’)

    It goes without saying, numerical growth is not the objective, but rather the outcome of a healthy, spiritual, obedient church. Does this mean their attendance will become large? Not necessarily. In the words of our current SBC President: “Let us not be known for our seating capacity (numbers in house), let us be known for our sending capacity (numbers we have sent out). Part of the reason some smaller membership churches have remained relatively small in number is because they ‘bring them in, train them up, and send them out.’ This seems to be the Biblical model.

    My fear is this; because of the push and publicity in favor of the smaller membership churches, that this encourages the feeling that we have no responsibility for sharing the gospel and reaching the lost. Christ’s mandate cuts across all of Christianity and to churches of all sizes.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • Jerry –

      Your perspective needs to be heard and put in balance with articles like mine. You are so right. The pendulum can swing too far and accountability for obedience to evangelize will be lost. Thank you.

    • Gregory L Ross says on

      From a pew sitter: why do we talk about the death of a church? In my view it is simply a function of supply/demand (excepting misbehavior and stupidity). Every zealous pastor is eager to start another “church plant” or rescue a “failing” church, and then take pride in the jet-like growth. I find this rather foolish. If I were running things (and you are happy I am not) – I would take the 20 half filled churches (all under the “true” church name) within 10 blocks of each other and combine them into one. Why pour tithe into declining facilities, and foolish programs? Very poor stewardship. I give enough to satisfy my use of heat, lights, salary, and supplies I use. I then go to to find charities that do things professionally and very cost effectively. I’m tired of seeing my money used without full disclosure, without any common sense, for someone else’s ego. No wonder churches decline as the pew sitters get more intelligent, better information, etc. I would rather be in a church of 25 people that has full disclosure, is humble, and is okay with freedom of expression and thought than in a “mega-church) that is trendy and ego driven. Amen and God Bless.

  • Mac McCaleb says on

    Good word.

  • Guy in the pew says on

    In my experience small churches are much more concerned with numbers than large churches. For obvious reasons.

  • Guy in the pew says on

    Outside of the first few chapters of acts numbers are not emphasized or even mentioned in the NT that I can think of. I don’t recall Paul ever pointing out the size of a church.

  • Thanks, Thom. The gifts of Pastors are widely varied also, and the Lord uses those gifts in their appropriate size church. It’s a joy when a Pastor is using his giftedness in a setting that matches!

    • You are so right, Darrell!

    • I really liked your last reason, churches working together in the community. I’m our community of Jones County, GA; we had 9 churches, our local Gideons, FCA, and some businesses partner together to sponsor 4 high school football teams for their two day camp July 17-18. 400 players/coaches from 4 communities. Our churches partnered together to provide meals, New Testaments for each person, gospel tracks, we hosted a worship service, and church leaders came together for prayer. Awesome evangelistic outreach opportunity. Comments ranged from the 3 out of town schools wanting to come back to all the schools being in awe of how the churches worked together. now the real fruit is following up with discipleship.

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