Small? Really? YES!

You are NOT alone! You are a part of the Majority! In 1996 I sat down with the six people who remained in the small Nazarene church in Oklahoma. I agreed to be their pastor. My family added 4 and the little church had an immediate growth spurt! For sure that was a small beautiful church! But what do I mean by small? If you want some background to my thinking on this please read the book “Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell.

I consider a small church to be any church of 150 or less in worship attendance on a normal Sunday morning. I would group the small churches as follows.

Building Yes or No Very small Small Avg Small Larger Small
Rural no  3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150
Rural yes 3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150
Urban no 3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150
Urban yes 3 to 25 25 to 40 41 to 100 100 to 150

None of these sizes is better than any other – they are just different. I plan to address each of these types in various blogs.

The distinctions in the chart are institutional or structural considerations. Every church of every size (large or small) is able to Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations. The main differences have to do with the structural challenges each faces. These three structural issues (Worship attendance size, Urban/Rural, building no building) combine to make the organizational or administrative challenges different. Similar kinds of churches in these categories have similar challenges.

The difference between Rural and Urban is vast.

The difference between the church renting something and owning it’s own building is vast. The difference between 20 and 120 is huge. While each of these church types has it’s own challenges each is a beautiful small church.

I am sizing the small church as less that 150 in attendance because above that number the organizational structure changes dramatically from informal to formal. This is a basic limit on the number of relationships that humans can handle and within all human organizations sets the way we are able to organize ourselves.

Thus the small church is defined by the WAY it can and normally does organize – using informal structures. The large church is defined by the WAY it needs to organize. A large church cannot organize the way a small church does. It is possible for a small church to use large church organization but it does not need to. It can take advantage of an informal structure very effectively. If a growing congregation passes 150 in average worship and does not structure as a formal organization it will usually fall back to a smaller size. This is the challenge for churches that want to grow or are able to grow larger than 150. They MUST restructure. That is a painful process and most do not succeed.

Finally, look at this chart from the research team of the Church of the Nazarene. Notice that the largest percentage of Nazarene churches around the world is in the range 41 to 120 while nearly 1/2 of all Nazarene churches (12,276) are less than 40 people. From 120 to 300 we have a total of 2008 churches. So that the overwhelming majority of Nazarene churches in the world are less than 300 members.

Church of the Nazarene Congregations by Church Size (2019)









1 to 20 6,336 27.3% 4,034 15%
21 to 30 3,712 16.0% 4,007 15%
31 to 40 2,228 9.6% 3,837 14%
41 to 120 8,486 36.5% 10,725 40%
120 to 300 2,008 8.6% 3,498 13%
301 to 500 273 1.2% 657 2%
501 to 1000 147 0.6% 270 1%
1000 + 48 0.2% 84 0%
Total 23,238 100.0% 27,112 100%

How would you define the small beautiful church? What do you see that I have not considered?

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