the weblog of Alan Knox

How Big is Too Big for the Church?

Posted by on Nov 18, 2011 in blog links, edification, gathering | 15 comments

How Big is Too Big for the Church?

My good friend Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” is asking a very good question in his post “What Size Should a Church Family Be?

(If you haven’t met Eric yet, he and I have known each other for about 9 years. Recently, he resigned from his job as a vocational pastor because of some convictions based on his study of Scripture.)

Eric begins where my previous post stopped: the purpose of the church gathering is mutual edification. If, then, we are to gather to edify one another, is there an upper limit on the number that can gather together? That’s the question that Eric asks.

He says:

What about the upper end? In our country right now the answer tends to be “bigger is better.” Another common way of thinking is that size doesn’t matter at all. I disagree with both these conclusions…

What about 30? I believe this is roughly the upper end. I freely admit that this conclusion is based partly on my own experience. I’ve read others who come to both higher and lower conclusions than 30. However, in my experience 30 is roughly the upper end that can fully participate in a gathering to bring about edification.

Like I told Eric in the comments, I’m not smart enough or brave enough to suggest a number. But I agree that mutual edification should be the principle that drives our gathering. If there are too many people gathered together to work together to help one another grow in spiritual maturity, then there’s a problem.

After I left my comment on Eric’s post, I began to wonder something… Is one of the causes (of desiring larger and larger church sizes) the fact that we are more interested in gathering together than we are in going out?


15 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 11-18-2011

    because we live in a consumerist environment it is only natural for people to want bigger and better

    even i love bigger and better

    now as for the “church family” i guess it could be like any other family

    some family reunions may be 10 people

    others have hundreds

    i think the difference is the dynamic of the meeting

    i personally think “Church” gatherings should be more like family reunions where they are somewhat organized (because humans naturally organize) but without hollow rhetorical lectures and the such

    who is the leader at a family reunion?

    the answer is pretty much no one

    some may have more/different responsibilities but there is no one head

    the only difference is in a Church family there should always be one Head……..Christ

  2. 11-18-2011

    I would say about 30, too. For one reason the early church could probably only cram about 30 people in a home. I can remember archeologists finding a renovated house during an excavation in Ephesus they believe was enlarged to accomdodate about 70 people in one room. They assumed it was an early house church. I wish I could remember the source.

    When I was doing consulting with mega churches, they would always tell people they are an “Acts” church as in very large church. When I started studying on my own i saw quickly that was misleading. The Jerusalem church in Acts came after Pentecost and eventually dispersed back home carrying the message of what they saw. That was the whole purpose of it being during Pentecost when all those Jews of the diaspora were making a pilgrimage. Although the Jerusalem church was probably the biggest for a while.

  3. 11-18-2011

    Very good points lydia

  4. 11-18-2011

    Mike,

    I’d love to hear more about how “the dynamic of the meeting” would affect the number of people gathering together in your opinion.

    Lydia,

    Some argue that believers in the New Testament did gather together in larger numbers, such as in the temple in Jerusalem. Do you think that’s possible?

    -Alan

  5. 11-19-2011

    What I was really saying alan is that the number should not have an effect on the dynamic

    In other words it should always be open and natural as opposed to closed and scripted =D

  6. 11-19-2011

    Alan,
    Another cause might be that we are trying to avoid mutual building up.

  7. 11-19-2011

    Mike,

    Thanks for the explanation! I agree.

    Tom,

    I think you’re right. Plus, some assume that it’s not their responsibility to build up others, but instead it is the leadership’s responsibility.

    -Alan

  8. 11-21-2011

    There is an upper number from which one can recieve edification if by edification one is thinkng the sharing of thoughts and ideas with a group and having an iron sharpening iron experience, that is whay small groups are for.

    I am not sure that the Bible is speaking to/of Worship as the place for/that the iron sharpening iron kind of edification occurs. THere is/can be an edification from the “sermon” as one hears and takes it into their spirit to reexamine as the week goes on.

  9. 11-21-2011

    Peter,

    Thanks for the comment. Paul focuses specifically on edification when the church gathers together in 1 Corinthians 14. To me, his descriptions and instructions and commands appear more like what you called “the iron sharpening iron kind of edification” than the “sermon” type. While reexamining and continued discussion throughout the week is always a good thing, I don’t see any indication that Paul intended the discernment to happen at different locations and times in that passage. Can people learn and grow from a sermon? To a point. But, for continued maturity, I think that the input of several among the church is necessary.

    -Alan

  10. 11-23-2011

    I think small gatherings of people can be limiting in that they are more likely to consist of folks who generally share closely aligned points of view and interpretation of Scripture. I believe faith is a journey, and that we can–I would argue should–learn from fellow Christians who have opinions different from ours.

  11. 11-23-2011

    Sarah,

    That’s interesting. I’ve been part of very large churches (over 14,000 members) and very small churches. I’ve found that the larger churches were less likely to accept viewpoints that were different from the leaders’ viewpoints, and they all had the same viewpoints. On the other hand, I’ve found that the smaller churches tend to love and care for people regardless of their viewpoints or opinions. Perhaps we have different experiences in this.

    -Alan

  12. 11-25-2011

    Alan, no, I just meant that statistically speaking, there are more variations in a larger population. You are more likely to encounter greater diversity of thought with a bigger group of people.

  13. 11-28-2011

    Sarah,

    Have you found that people were allowed to voice their diversity of thought among a bigger group of people in a megachurch setting?

    -Alan

  14. 12-9-2011

    Alan, I tend not to rely on my experience in any topic, because it’s not evidentiary… any more than anyone else’s experience is. They are anecdotal and subjective. But no, my experience has not shown a correlation between the size of the church and the willingness of its members to hear differing views.

  15. 12-9-2011

    Sarah,

    Thanks for the discussion!

    -Alan