Church Life, Outreach, Missions
Church Size Makes a Difference
by Ed Vasicek
When you’ve been pastoring a church for 21 years, you begin to notice patterns and recurring issues. One area of adjustment many folks have to make relates to the size of our church.
For some people, ours is a large congregation. For others, it's a tiny flock. And, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, for others, our size is “just right.” God has different purposes for different churches. Some churches are very similar to ours when it comes to basic beliefs, though few have the same emphasis. Some of these churches are much larger than ours, while others are quite small. Our church used to be smaller. When I began in 1983, we averaged about 75 per Sunday. We can now honestly say we run about 200 per Sunday. Obviously we have not grown overnight.
What many people do not realize, however, is that church size is more than how many bodies fill an auditorium. The entire dynamic of a congregation is affected by size. Generally speaking, larger churches offer more choices and more programs, while smaller churches are more personable and relational. A church our size is still considered small by many authorities, an average attendance of 300 being considered the threshold for medium. One church in Kokomo has a youth group that is larger than our entire congregation!
Because we are not too large, I can eventually get to know everyone who attends here regularly, although I am slow at remembering names. I need to see them written down.
Because we are not too small, we offer a number of programs and ministries. But, compared to our past, we are larger than we used to be. With growth comes the creation of layers of ministry, and with additional ministry, the rules change.
We cannot do as many things on a whim. For example, we could not plan a Wednesday night special meeting with a guest missionary a few weeks in advance. If we did such a thing, we would have to plan it months in advance to accommodate our AWANA Clubs and our SOL Bible Study. The AWANA schedule for the September-April year is usually completed in July. Because our church is making more of a difference than we ever have and lots of activities take place here during the week, we can no longer assume that a weekday afternoon is “dead time” round these parts. As a matter of fact, assumptions are what get us in trouble!
I remember a number of years ago, we lent out most of our tables for another event here in town. Then we were hit with a surprise funeral dinner and had to use old ping-pong tables and other ragtag tables. We then learned to limit how many tables we would lend out because we never know when the unexpected will come our way.
When our church was smaller, it was easier to plan events with less lead-time. Take Sunday nights. Five years ago, we could have planned a dinner a week in advance and all would be well. But now we have a really good Sunday night BASIC youth meeting and a really good Creation Club for younger youth, plus nursery workers to consider. People who are serving do not like things just dropped on them without advance notice.
Four years ago, folks who were planning to do special music could practice in the auditorium at 8:30 that morning. Now we have an early service at that time. We have worked hard to include participants in our 10:30 service, whether in the realm of music, drama, liturgical dance, etc. This requires planning services or events sometimes months in advance.
When I first came to HPC, if I preached ten minutes over, it did not make a big difference. A few folks would be displeased because they were not sure they could beat the restaurant rush, but that was about it. Now if I preach ten minutes over, I have inconvenienced the nursery workers, and our three sets of Children’s Church teachers have to keep young, active minds busy for ten more minutes when they know they should be “free”.
The bottom line is that we are finding new applications for Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We have learned to be team players rather than rugged individuals. Because we are a team, we are having more impact for the Kingdom than we ever have. Believe me, making a few adjustments is worth it to actually DO ministry, building relationships with more people and influencing our community for Christ.
So, those of you who have a large church background, you will notice that we do not have as much red tape as you might be used to. We are more relaxed and inclusive. If, on the other hand, your church background is from a very small congregation, we are more organized and have to do more coordinating than your previous experience. But I think for a church of our size, we do a lot. Most of you are involved in volunteering in some ministry here. My pastor buddies are jealous. Okay, so I like to brag. Want to make something of it? Oh, yeah, I forgot, Philippians 2:4. Sorry.
Reprinted from the October 2004 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA