Size-Appropriate Structures

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 4.17.06 PMWe all know an ‘intimate dinner’ of three or four couples has a different function and planning level than a party to which you invite seventy or eighty.  We also know that a Morris Mini has a different engine and transmission than does a delivery truck.  In the same manner, we have different equipment to fish for bluegill off the pier than we would if we fished for tuna in the ocean.  Yet sometimes we act in churches as if supporting structures in the church are the same for an eighty-member congregation as for a five thousand-member congregation, just bigger.

One of the pieces of wisdom shared in church growth circles is that if you combine a couple of two hundred-member churches, you will get one two hundred member church—because they know how to be a two hundred-member church!  What that statement tries to highlight is that different sizes of congregations need different structures to support their size.  When internal structures do not match the size of a church two things can happen; either growth is inhibited or internal discomfort and conflict arises.

Susan Beaumont (a consultant for large churches at the Alban Institute) has recently written a book, Inside the Large Congregation, to focus on these issues.  It is a fantastic tool in the analysis of internal structures of a church from 200 in weekly attendance to 2000.[1]  Beaumont’s four size categories are well supported by her experience and research.   The book analyzes five internal structures within congregations that support ministry {Growth Challenges, Pastoral Challenges, Staff team challenges, Board Challenges and Assimilation Challenges} and is adamant that these are not the only structural challenges affected by size.  She argues that these are five critical ones in understanding why a church might be experiencing dissatisfaction among members, burnout among staff, internal staff conflicts, an inability to grow or a growth pattern that seems to be ‘bouncing off a glass ceiling.’

Her thesis (one that gives me great understanding to some of the ministry challenges I have witnessed or been a part of) is that as a congregation grows to certain sizes, the dissonance between the support structures and size create internal stresses that unless resolved by making adjustments in these support structures can result in the problems listed above among others.  Often the presenting challenges are not as much the root cause as misalignment of support structures with size.

Churches reach decision points.  If misalignment between structural appropriateness and size are not brought into consistency either growth will stop or an incredible amount of energy is required to maintain the dissonance or control resultant conflict.  Churches wishing to grow can begin to ‘act the size’ of the congregation they wish to become and growing to that size becomes easier.    While energy is consumed in changing a support structure or expectation, life beyond the adjustment makes more sense.  Also, the pastoral gifts needed at each size are different.  The insights gleaned from Beaumont’s observations of pastoral responsibilities that change at each level will allow for serious conversations between board and pastors about the skills needed for the next season of ministry.   This is a tremendous resource for pastors of churches and for boards who seek to be effective in reaching their communities for the gospel.

In the preface to the book, Ms. Beaumont mentions other works that have contributed to thinking and research in the area of church size and supporting structures.   These include: Sizing up Congregations for New Member Ministry by Arlin Rothauge (1983), One Size Doesn’t Fit All, by Gary McIntosh (1999)  and The Very Large Church, by Lyle Schaller (2000).  For the student serious about these issues these resources can lend further credence to the conclusions of this author.  In addition, Ms. Beaumont continues to discuss the topic on her blog, .

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[1] It is important to note that in Beaumont’s size categories both income level and weekly attendance are used as indicators.


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