How About Some Respect for Smaller-sized Churches!

by Mickey Noel

mickey-noelLeadership Journal recently published an interview with Natural Church Development proponent Christian A. Schwartz. His research has definitively shown that smaller congregations outperform larger churches in seven of eight “ministry quality” categories.  
For many years now all the press in the church world has gone to those congregations that have achieved numerical growth and subsequent notoriety. But is bigger necessarily better when it comes to measuring success in the church? Schwartz’s findings would seem to indicate otherwise. Surveying 1,000 churches in 32 countries, he found eight principles of health in churches around the world, regardless of size, culture or denomination.  
When asked, “What will health look like in the coming decade?” (Here is what he says)

I see two things. First is an emphasis on pursuing quality, not as against quantity, but as the strategic root for quantity. Once you understand what it means to set qualitative goals, to pursue them, and to measure periodically whether you have reached these qualitative goals, this will have a tremendous effect.  
Second is a shift to the relevance of small churches. One of our most surprising discoveries is that (while there are some notable exceptions) the bigger a church grows, the worse it becomes both in quality and in its capability to reach new people for Christ. In few ways is the bigger church a better church.

So… how do small churches outperform large churches?

One example is the percentage of people who practice their spiritual gifts to help their church grow. In churches with less than 100 in attendance, it’s 31 percent. You can say that’s not much. But if you compare that with churches of over 1,000 in attendance, which average only 17 percent, you see there is a decline in quality. In all areas except one, the quality decreases with the size of the church.

There is one exception?

We measured eight quality characteristics: empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. Larger churches do better than smaller churches only in creating more inspiring worship services.  
This makes sense. In a crowd of 5,000, to sing worship songs and to have higher quality music is more inspiring than being together with eight other people and a guitarist who can play only three chords.

I say—let’s hear it for the non Mega-churches! Let’s measure the right things to determine church health—it’s not just a matter of attendance, budget and campus size. It is a matter of building authentic, life-changing Christian community and aggressively seeking to build relationship and invite people into that community.


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