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How church size makes a difference to how it is led by a pastor

A church of 50 active members needs a very different set of pastoral and leadership skills than one of 150. Same for one of 350, which calls for a pastor quite different than the one for 150 active members. If pastors and churches are not aware of this, it can be a pitfall. A pastor who may have done really well in a church of one size might not do well in one of the others. I will explain that in this blog post. What is exceedingly rare is a pastor who can start a church from a handful of people and grow it themselves beyond 300. I had the privilege a few weeks ago of being part of a phone interview with someone who wants to become an STM who managed that kind of a growth in a CRC, and then ran into big problems. I enjoyed the interview and if he becomes an STM I look forward to having opportunities to learn from his experience. The theory (sources listed at the end) behind all this is that there are four main church sizes. They are as follows:

The Family church
Defined by having less than 50 active members.
It is usually structured like a family unit, and so will have a mother figure and/or a father figure (matriarch and patriarch, not necessarily from the same genetic family) These are the people that really run the church. Their role is to make sure that any pastor that comes to them does not change things too much. The pastor is essentially a chaplain who delivers pastoral care. Pastors who come into these situations with a lot of ambition and not understanding this dynamic will soon be in a clash with one of the parent figures. A showdown with one of the parent figures in the first five years will be deadly for their ministry there. Still there is a lot that can be done if they understand their place in the “family”. They can provide inspirational, quality worship and visitation and pastoral care. If those are their strengths, they will do well, especially if they can identify the parent figures and work alongside them. Yet they need to recognize that if that person decides against something, it is finished.
Pastors in these situations have to watch out for being set up in conflict by others complaining to them about the key figure and encouraging them to take that person on. They will soon find out that no one will back them in a pinch if they actually do it. The congregation members know the danger of confronting that person, and have learned that they have to live with them.
These churches are used to pastors moving on (up the ladder to bigger churches) on a regular basis. That is partly why they don’t take a pastor seriously. He is not there for the long haul.
These are dangerous churches for inexperienced seminarians with all kinds of fresh ideas. The squelching they experience will be brutal and confusing.
These churches are far more resilient than most people expect. The way to effective ministry in them that will bring God lasting honour is to stay and love them for at least 10 years, playing by the rules and defering to the parent figure’s leadership for 3 to 5 years.
Here is a link to a summary page: http://wp.me/a3etrg-fM
The Pastoral Church
Defined as 50 to 150 active members.
Pastors are more central in these churches, and thus more empowered. There are too many parent figures for one to consistently rise to power. So the Pastor’s job is to manage them. This is done by forming an effective leadership circle and having good open communication and delegating authority and responsibility, and by supporting  and recognizing the accomplishments of others. The dangers are in the pastor overworking, taking on too much responsibility.
A key element of  a Pastoral size church is that members will grow most spiritually and personally from direct relationship to the pastor. The pastor will be expected to be part of most bible studies or other groups. Yet at the larger end of this scale that may not be possible. A person with a need who calls the pastor will expect to be able to meet with them within 24 hours or less.
A second key for such a church is that it will value how members feel they can still know everyone and feel like family. As soon as you get beyond 130 to 150 that is less possible and will create anxiety in the congregation. They will, maybe even unconsciously, begin to fear they are losing fellowship with so many unknown faces around. At this stage it becomes impossible for most Pastors to have personal knowledge of all active members as well. If they believe they are ineffective if they don’t know everyone the Pastor will actually contribute to keeping the church at this size. Or they will make choices that create friction. I personally have seen it a few times where the Pastor chooses to focus on new believers and that irritates the old timers. The church leadership will convey a desire to grow through outreach in the call conversation, but when the Pastor arrives their behaviour makes it clear they are not willing to pay the real price that entails.
Some clergy are most effective in this kind of church. The CRC is mostly congregations of this size. Strong interpersonal skills are needed. Being a pastor who enjoys being at the center of things is also important, though that can get out of hand if not monitored. Expressive and open pastors do well here.
Here is a link to a summary page: http://wp.me/a3etrg-fN
The Program Church
Defined as 150 to 350 active members
When the Pastoral church grows, and the pastor cannot cover all, then others need to be brought on board to help with the spiritual feeding and other ministries. So lay leaders of other pastoral staff become important. Pockets or cells of ministry develop which are completely run by those leaders. The pastor may actually have little involvement. The other layers of leadership become surrogate pastors. In a meeting a family concern might be raised, and the lay leader will lead prayer for that situation.
Clergy are still central, but now these lay leaders or other pastoral staff become their major concern. That is a big shift. Recruiting, training and supporting and ministering to these leaders become crucial for things still functioning well. The pastor neglects them at great risk to the wellbeing of the church as a whole.
Pastoral care to congregation members moves up to more urgent situations. Just stopping by to chat becomes much less likely unless the pastor has an agenda for that stopping by. Making a request to talk to the pastor about a church matter might lead to an appointment a week later.
Senior Pastors in these churches need to be strong in program planning and development. Being able to relate to just about anyone becomes less important. Keeping the programs running smoothly wins out over everything. Helping set direction for the congregation (with the help of the leaders) becomes a more key role, and then also helping them move toward achieving that goal. A consensus needs to be found, and the pastor needs to be solidly in the middle of it, rebuffing all opposition to it. To not do so will weaken the whole system. So the pastor becomes more of a vision caster and leader of it’s implemenation. A Pastor who finds direct pastoral care work as the most rewarding part of ministry will be disappointed in this size of church or will be ineffective because of a focus in an area that is not essential.
Here is a link to a summary page: http://wp.me/a3etrg-fO
The Corporate Church
defined as 350 or more active members
If you become this big, I will come back and do a writeup on this one! But again, the needs in terms of a Pastor and leadership are quite different than in the previous three.
What I presume is abundantly clear is that each level requires a different way of organizing power and responsibility and a different set of skills and awareness in their pastor. If a church is either growing or shrinking, it is very very important that the leadership and congregation be aware of these changes. The hardest times for a congregation, all other things being healthy, is the expectation adjustments needed. A church that grows from a family size to a pastoral size needs to know things are going to be operating differently. The parent figures will not like their loss of power. If they are not mature people, they will fight the growth and the pastor leading it. In a church that grows from Pastor size to Program size there will be a lot of missing ‘knowing their pastor’ and so a lot of resistance to growth as ‘regulars’ feel neglected in favour of ‘newcomers’ and can’t accept that spiritual care is the responsibility of everyone, not just the pastor. . It’s all about being aware of how change changes everything and about being aware and proactive in it. Much more could be said, but that is the important thing for now.
Two things, in my experience and opinion, shape this effect even more in CRCs. Our Church order and general structure of councils and committees was developed when we were mainly Family/Pastoral churches. It is one of many reasons why our churches rarely grow beyond 200 active members.
Secondly, I believe that a lot of our Pastoral Churches operate on a Family church mentality. In other words, a church of 150 may have three Family churches within it, each with a key figure advocating for that group’s needs and demanding the support of the pastor. This can create another layer of tension. A Pastoral size church needs a leadership that understands and owns that it is that size and that the pastor is to be more than a chaplain. A church that moves beyond Pastoral into Program size should really do some learning about how to best operate. A Program church that calls a pastor because the pastor looks like a good Family style pastor is creating a setup situation.
So much to learn. I know. But awareness is the first step to doing well. Ignorance will assure repeats of past mistakes.
I’ll leave it there for now.
My source material is mainly some writings by Roy M Oswald of the Interim Ministry Network that was part of our STM training.
Making the change from any level to another, either going in numbers or going down, is very hard and can only be done with a lot of intentionality (proactive).
Most of our church order and cerntainly most CRC congregational expectationsis created fro
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