No Such Thing As A Healthy Medium Sized Church?

Jerod Clark

June 15, 2009

It depends on what you mean by healthy. If you define healthy by lots of busy work, mens groups, women’s groups, missions, projects, then yeah. That kind of activity depends on human enthusiasm. However, If by healthy you mean that the fruit of the Spirit is visible,’ the church is full of contagious joy, the nine gifts of the spirit that Paul outlines in 1st Corinthians are in operation, people are experiencing healing (real physical healing) and the congregation is embracing evangelism, then no. That church can’t stay at 350 people. That is clearly impossible. Just like you can’t stop yeast when a pinch is added to dough and you can’t stop a mustard seed from growing and reproducing, a group of people filled with the Holy Spirit, like the 12 believers at Ephesus, has to grow. That’s because Jesus called us to the great commission and then gave us His Spirit to accomplish it. We are fishers of men. Early in my Christian walk I attended a small, mostly black, charismatic church in the inner city. Within 2 years it grew to several thousand as they opened the door to all races and honored the work of the Holy Spirit. We went from meeting in a small neighborhood church to having to rent Portland’s Civic Auditorium in the summer to accomodate all the new believers.

June 15, 2009

The problem is not the size of the church, it is the philosophy of the church and our definitions of "healthy" and "successful." I personally believe the ideal size for a church is 200-400. Below that number, the church is either growing or dying; above it, the church is inevitably beginning to fragment into mini-bodies, age-grade divisions, programs, and multiple staff-led ministries. In that range, the church is either preparing to grow, or is stagnating from ownership issues.<br><br>I think the concept of unity of the body is lost above 400. So, in my thinking, a "healthy" church is one that determines to be an evangelizing and church-planting body, splitting off new bodies of Christ with trained pastors and ready-to-plant congregations rather than building yet another large-facility, numbers-dependent, program-driven, megachurch. All the current research shows that the new generation is rejecting that model of church in droves in the search for authentic, personal spirituality.<br><br>Have I ever seen that kind of self-propagating church happen? Not yet. But maybe, with the new economic realities, the church will rethink its megachurch corporation mentality and find a way to move Evangelicalism back from the brink of self-destruction. There will, of course, continue to be churches that truly believe that size is a barometer of success, but I hope the church can seize the opportunity to make a bigger statement, that "movement matters" much more than "size matters."<br><br>Idealistic rant out.<br><br>

June 15, 2009

My church in Scotland is currently around the 'medium-sized church' by this definition. However, this is only because we don't have enough room to fit more people in, so we're expanding our number of services in the autumn after a lot of prayer. However, this number is actually considered to be fairly large in the UK. If there are a large number of healthy medium-sized churches in the area, I think it would be possible to remain at the same level of attendancy. This may also occur at student churches, where the membership rotates rather than settles.

June 15, 2009

I agree with ClayofCo on just about everything. 200-400 is the perfect size and the definitions are skewed to the World not God. <br>I HAVE seen my denonmination choose to split and plant new churches rather than become a mega-church. I have nothing against a small, growing fellowship, but I would do no more than VISIT the large mega-church.

June 15, 2009

I agree (@rick) with the idea that a church is either producing fruit or withering. Our church hit a plateau at about 350 after a couple years of growth. I think that plateau was a healthy and needed thing for the congregation. We had just experienced a great deal of change and growth and needed a moment to catch our breath. <br><br>However, lately there has been a growing sense that "break time" is over and it is time to discuss more changes and ways that we can help each other invite more people into our community. Change is hard and exhausting, which means there are healthy times of plateau in order to plan out the next climb.

Matt B.
June 16, 2009

I agree with clayofco; rather than grow to a 1000+ and growing megachurch, I would think the idea should be to plant new churches. Authenticity and unity is key and I don't think you have that in megachurch bodies; rather I should say that is much harder to hang on to as you start filling a shopping center. I have been to some large churches and while they offer more glitz and generally more activities, I feel more at home in a smaller church where I generally get to interact with the whole body instead of a select few. Where I truly feel at home and can share life with one another.<br><br>One thing that I have truly appreciated living on the island of Crete is going to a small church in a small building, with a close group of Christians and even new "seekers" sharing life and the word together. This is exactly how I picture it being with Paul as he came through here ~ 2000 years ago. Numbers should never be the sole gauge of the body's health. If it is, we're missing the point.

June 16, 2009

My church is currently around 250 people. We're about to move into a new building and our goal is to have 400 people by the end of the year. As for your question can a healthy church hover around 350, I'd say no, and ask why would you even want to. Healthy churches are suppose to grow, just like any other healthy thing. If you're hovering, it means you're not bringing in the lost, or you're losing the already saved.

June 16, 2009

hm. good question. <br><br>i think that if a church is truly healthy, the numbers have nowhere to go but up because you can't keep people out. you can't squash the excitement of those attending. medium size churches become large churches because God is there. and when God is there and actively sought, the church will be doing His will.

June 19, 2009

I think there are ways a church can grow besides numerically. I think churches enter seasons of adding members, and also seasons of growth for the members that are already there. Sometimes God prunes us, and that might look like "the pull downward" to human measures, but I think it might be part of being a healthy church.

June 19, 2009

this is an interseting concept. however it seems to imply that the way you gauge church health is by a quick headcount. <br><br>"McIntosh suggests that there is no such thing as a healthy medium size church (201-400 attendees). Churches are either growing or shrinking." I would suggest that church health has less to do with the numbers in the pews and more to do with what is being taught.<br>I sincerly question the "health" of some larger churches that teach a man-centered gospel...note the small g.<br>the church needs to teach a God-centered Gospel. we need to understand that our salvation is first and foremost to display God's glory. if this is done then a small, medium or large church can be healthy

June 20, 2009

Shannon, I agree with you in this way. A church with a God-centered gospel will always be evangelistic and growing. The gospel means GOOD NEWS to man. It is leaven and leaven has to grow, that is its nature. If a church stays small and is not reproducing, there is an underlying problem. Conversly, just because a church is large is not necessarily a sign of health. But a healthy church will always be growing numerically. Jesus called us to be fishers of men. Then as if to underline His mission he commanded Peter to cast his net to the other side of the boat and they netted a huge quantity of fish. Jesus commissioned us not only to preach the gospel, but he asked us to go into the highways and byways and compel them to come in. There is no room for the kind of smugness that says, we may not be growing in numbers but we have better fruit than you. Or we are small because we are focussed on God. Evangelism brings glory to the Father. Plateaus should always be temporary. <br><br>At the first preaching of the new gospel 3000 people were instantly converted. Numbers are indeed one significant measure of health. As Dr. Luke reports, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord”. It is no virtue to boast of flat numbers or even shrinkage. We are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Satan’s designs are to render us complacent, comfortable with our size, unconcerned with reaching our neighbors, non-reproductive. This is not an apologetic for mega churches, there are many ways of handling healthy church growth including dividing into daughter churches. <br><br>It is not God’s responsibility to preach the gospel, that part He has given to us. “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?” If we will do our part, He is faithful to do His. As he says of the first church, they were “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” We must be obediant to the Lord and compel them to come in even praying that the Lord of the harvest would send more workers into the harvest. Then He will add to the church daily.<br><br>

June 23, 2009

Why are we associating success with (a) numbers or (b) ministries? Why not ask when asking whether a church is successful questions like this: Are they successfully challenging their members and the surrounding culture to live more Christlike lives by giving more of themselves to people in need? Are they making a difference in the world by challenging the ideologies of the world like war and violence, wealth inequality, racism, sexism, and heterosexism? Are they challenging their community and their neighborhood to live life in community and change their lifestyles to more sustainable and less exploitative ways of living? Why are you using the Western, individualistic, consumeristic business model of evangelicalism as a measurement for the church's success?

June 24, 2009

James: Your criteria for a healthy church doesn’t exist in the New Testament. There are many places where healthy and unhealthy churches are discussed. Jesus rates the health of 7 churches in Revelations 2 and 3. He talks about personal faith, endurance, sexual immorality several times, the degree of their love for Jesus, patience, repentance. The Book of Hebrews is written to an unhealthy church and the goal of the book is to get them back on track. In fact Paul’s epistles are written to the church in Ephesus, the church in Phillipi, the church in Corinth, the church in Rome, etc. Nowhere are these churches rated on whether they are challenging the ideologies of war and violence, racism, sexism, heterosexism, redistribution of wealth, sustainablity and less exploitative ways of living. Western consumeristic model for evangelism? Are you kidding? Haven’t you read the book of Acts? The great commission? Jesus’ teachings about going out to the highways and byways and COMPELLING them to come in and filling up every single place at the wedding feast? You are seeing things from a limited western, 21st century socialist paradigm, a political construct that has very little to do the purpose and ministry of the transcendent New Testament church. Unless it doesn’t matter what the Bible says or you want to pull a few scriptures out of context and cobble together an apologetic for left wing political activism, in which case you really don’t need the Bible.

August 8, 2009

I would have to agree that a healthy church is a growing church. The first part of Revelation gives a few good examples of churches described here. If you look into the new testament there are multiple instances of "and 5000 were brought to Christ" and "Today 300 were baptized" and other things like that, one could say Jesus plays the number game. <br>The whole point of Christianity is to bring people into a growing relationship with Christ; (Go forth and make deciples of all nations) if a church isn't doing that, then they're not doing what they were called to do. Don't get me wrong, community, ministry, outreach, they're all important, and a church should be doing those as well, but their ultimate goal is to bring people to Jesus. Now if a Church becomes rather large, it may be a good thing to create small study groups, or if nessicary, split into smaller churches. It's dangerous for a large church to become comfortable with their glitz, ministries, and work. But if there's not that growth and excitement, a church is dead<br><br>Now on the subject of growth and community I've also found an interesting idea, 1M4JC, <a href="http://1m4jc.com/" rel="nofollow">http://1m4jc.com/</a> it stands for 1 Million for Jesus Christ. They're selling serially numbered T-shirts to gather one million Christians together and create a community as well as use that to help spread the Word. It looks like they are a for profit buisness, but 30 percent of profits go to charity. I just found that and found it interesting.

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