Here is a simple depiction of the number of churches at three different levels:
- 50% of all churches in America average less than 100 in worship attendance.
- 40% of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance.
- 10% of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance.
One of the Key Reasons
There is no single reason to explain the apparent ceiling of 350 in attendance of most churches. I do believe, however, that there is a major reason for this barrier. Such is the thesis of this post:
One of the key reasons most churches do not move beyond 350 in average worship attendance is they do not have sufficient leadership and structures in place.
Many smart people have provided analyses of what is commonly known as the 200 barrier. I believe that the 200 barrier is highly elastic. In other words, the barrier is really somewhere between 150 and 350, depending on a number of circumstances. Again, I believe that the key reason stated above is among the greatest inhibitors of growth.
Increasing Organizational Complexity
Moses was an unintended victim of organizational complexity. He was trying the Lone Ranger approach to the leadership of Israel. The nation would implode and he would lose his leadership authority if he kept doing what he was doing.
His father-in-law, Jethro, saw the flaws of his leadership and said:
"What you're doing is not good . . . You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can't do it alone" (Exodus 18:17-18, HCSB).
So, following Jethro's advice and wisdom, Moses became a different kind of leader with a different kind of organization.
Here are the five major levels of organizational complexity in churches according to average worship attendance:
1. Under 100: Family and friends
2. 100 to 250: Basic
3. 251 to 350: Challenging
4. 351 to 750: Complex
5. Above 750: Highly complex
Most churches cannot or are not willing to make the types of changes that are necessary in complex organizations. In future resources, I will share what many leaders and churches are doing to move beyond the 100, 250, and 350 ceilings. In the meantime, let me hear from you.
Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.