Wednesday, June 09, 2010


An alert reader of my book, Being Church Where We Live, asked the following question.

It seems to me that the number of Christians you say should be in one Church is rather high. You talk about 40 people in one Church. I don't know about your house, but most houses here in Europe are simple too small to fit so many.
My initial answer was rather unthoughtful.
This is a good question. In Asia where people live closer together, a number of forty would be okay. People are much more used to jamming into a room. Here in New Zealand, people seem to need a lot more personal space and each one needs a chair. We find that once a group gets up to twenty the dynamic changes, some of the quieter people stop participating and a few do all the talking. So the number would have to vary according the size of houses and the cultural dynamic.
After further thought I realised this answer is a bit misleading.

The really important point is that the size of a church should be governed by the quality of the relationships and not the by the size of meeting place.

The groups that we have been involved in have not really got much beyond being groups that meet on a Sunday. Part of the reason is that the people still have to drive to get together. The other reason is that people are not yet ready for committing to a deeper community. Because the focus is on meetings, the size of the meetings has been critical to the functioning of the groups.

I arrived at the number forty by coming at this from a different angle, by looking at the relationships a church needs to be mature. First to have a balanced leadership, you need four leaders, and ideally you would have at least one more learning to be a leader. If the church is in a growth situation, each elder should be discipling six newer Christians (half of what Jesus managed). That is at least twenty-eight people. By the time you add in spouses you have about forty.

In my view, a church that is functioning really well could have that number. If they live in the same locality and are committed to the one another stuff, the real growth will be taking part in a whole variety of relationships and activities. The weekly meeting will be of much less importance in the ongoing life of the church. If the people are committed to each other, they will found a place to all meet together, even if it has to be outside in a public place.

If the size of the meeting place is the determinant of church size, the church will not reach its full development. This has been our experience. For example most of our groups have just had a couple of leaders, which means we do not have a full balanced leadership. One result is that some of fourfold giftings have been missing. In the last couple of groups, there has been no leader with an evangelistic calling. The consequence has been that most of the growth has come from existing Christians, and almost no new conversions.

We must not allow the size of living rooms constrain the development of the church. A mature church will need more than twenty people. Getting back into houses is good, but it is not a total panacea. We must not let it prevent our churches from reaching full maturity.

1 comment:

Steve Scott said...

"We must not allow the size of living rooms constrain the development of the church."

Time to change some zoning laws?