Congregational Size Dynamics

By Dan Hotchkiss

It’s harder to size up a congregation than it used to be. It’s still worth trying, though, because no one fact says more about a group of human beings than its size. A group of 20 people behaves differently from a group of 200, or 400, or 800. The question is: which number tells what size a congregation is?

So how do you tell what size your congregation is? The right metric depends, as it always has, on the question you are asking:

  • If you want to know how many seats you need or how many parking spaces, attendance at your largest frequent gathering is still the most important number. For most churches this will be a worship service. For a synagogues it is more apt to be an education time.
  • If you want to know whether you are staffed or housed appropriately, you need to think about your congregation’s current expectations of itself. Affluence is also an important factor, because wealthy people hire more help and live in bigger houses than poor people do.
  • If you want to “act your size” organizationally, you need to pay attention to the number who actually participate in making decisions.
  • Most congregations need to pay more attention than they do to the number of people who give significant financial support. If you are getting more and more from fewer households, that is a concern.
  • No matter what you’re counting, trends matter more than absolute amounts.

More on congregation size dynamics.