Friday, January 9, 2015

Good-Bye Congregational Sized Church

While mega churches and simple churches grow, congregational sized churches are shrinking...rapidly.

First a definition: congregational sized churches are those with about 100-300 people. They generally have a pastor or two, meet in a building something like the size of what you see pictured here, and function in fairly traditional ways. Their worship services are seen by most of the members as the most important gathering of the church. Not a great deal has changed in these churches in the past fifty years.

When we hear about churches "closing their doors forever," this is the type of church being described. Almost everywhere in our country you can find more and more of these church buildings up for sale.

One pragmatic reason these churches are closing is that so many of the members are senior citizens. When we hear about the church "graying" in the USA, it is congregational churches that are being described. Just stand in the back of one of these churches on a Sunday morning. Many if not most of the heads will either be gray or bald. It doesn't require a genius to figure out what this means.

Why is this happening? Why aren't younger Christians as attracted to this type of church as they are to mega churches and simple churches? The answer: lack of community.

This may at first seem like a strange answer. After all, congregational sized churches are often small enough for everyone to know everyone else. Many of these folks even spend time together in small groupish settings called Sunday School. Why the problem with community?

The reason is that these churches are actually too large for everyone to know everyone. The members may know a little bit about each other, but most don't truly know what is happening in each others' lives. They are not aware of the other members' hopes, dreams, struggles, desires, problems, etc. The church is small enough for face and name recognition, but not small enough for actual community to take place. As for Sunday School classes, these often amount to little more than prayer requests and talking through a quarterly magazine.

Congregational sized churches are a thing of the past. Most will continue to function as they always have until they are forced to shut their doors for financial reasons. All the while they are dying they will have no idea what their actual cause of death is. This is because they think they have what they in fact do not have: authentic community.


Arthur Sido said...

The congregational sized church is the bedrock unit of American style Christendom but it requires a certain level of commitment and funding that simply is fading away.

Eric said...


Well said. Quite honestly I feel for many of the pew sitters who are destined to be part of the fading. It is not and will not be a pretty sight.