The New Very Large Church

by Thom S. Rainer

“It’s time to rethink church size. For the purpose of this article, I define church size as average weekly worship attendance, including children and youth who may not be in the primary worship service. In other words, we count every person attending a worship weekend (or other days for a few churches).

Thanks to Lifeway Research, we have a clearer understanding of the sizes of churches. I don’t know if you will be surprised.

I was.

What is a Large Church?

Let’s look at the breakdown of churches by average worship attendance:

Under 50 in attendance: 31% of all churches
51 – 99: 37%
100 – 249: 24%
250 and above: 8%
All of the numbers are fascinating, but the largest category should cause us to pause. Only 8 percent of churches have an attendance of 250 or more. These churches now define the category, “very large churches.”

Of course, there are still megachurches of 2,000 or more in worship attendance and mid-megachurches of 1,000 to 1,999, but those churches are outliers. If a church has an attendance of 250, its size is in the largest category.

New Names for New Categories

There will be some readers who cringe at the numerical emphases of this article. I get it. Numbers are neither ultimate nor penultimate. But these numbers represent a sea change in how we look at or define church size.

For now, we at Church Answers will speak of churches in the following categories so we can be on the same page:

Under 50 in attendance: smaller churches
51 – 99: mid-size churches
100 – 249: large churches
250 and above: larger churches
Implications of These Paradigmatic Changes

We will discuss the implications of these changes in depth at our podcast, Rainer on Leadership. But it does not take much thought to understand the world of American congregations is dramatically different than just ten years ago.

More pastors and staff will be co-vocational and bi-vocational.

Equipping church members to do the work of ministry is as vital as always.

Ministry and theological training must adapt to this reality.

Search committees will be looking for a different type of pastor.

Church budgets will be smaller.

Denominations must refocus their ministry and support of this new paradigm.

More churches will need to be adopted or they will die.

The list could go on.

The New Reality

Over two-thirds of American churches have a worship attendance under 100. As noted earlier, the new very large church has an attendance of 250 or higher.

It is indeed a new reality.

I would love to hear your thoughts on it.”

The New Very Large Church


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