Background Issues

In order to find a new path for our church, it helps us to know about how sizes affect the way each church functions and builds its own culture based on numbers of people who gather. Since the 1970s, many church researchers were able to help us think about how we organize ourselves. Here we discuss summaries of those discussions. We look at three relevant sizes only here. You will note that Drummond Hill as a church up until 1990, straddled between program size and pastoral size.

In the 1990s it began shrinking quickly into the pastoral size and often into the family size category. The difficulty in the mid 1990s and onward was that the congregation leadership and membership continued to carry on the mindset of being a program size church. In reality we are beginning to tread carefully at the lower edge of pastoral size, our mindset is still firmly lodged in the program size for many of our people. Culturally, this ended up giving us many difficulties in trying to overcome the way we plan for the future.

At this stage it is important for us to know how our mindset that was formed early affect our decisions today and why we are seeing certain challenges. We will discuss the difficulties in the next section. For now, we need to know how the size of attendance has been dictating the way churches organized themselves.

Family Size (Average Sunday worship attendance around 30-60)

Positives:

  • When an average attendance is around 50 (+/- 15) the church functions like a large family. There are few individual leaders who are the key decision drivers. Like a large family led by father and mother, ultimate decision making powers are entrusted to few key individuals. Peace and harmony are maintained based primarily on a member’s relationship to these leaders. The key leaders can be as few as one and as many as 4.
  • Role of minister or pastor is often limited similar to a chaplain in that she preaches, visits (both home and hospital) and cultivates friendly relationships with individuals and meets the needs in a similar way as a family doctor would. Strength comes from the relationship between the minister and key leaders. The whole congregation benefits when this relationship fosters mutually beneficial outcomes. Frustrations may develop if the minister or pastor has different views of what ministry ought to be from the key leaders.
  • This size fosters very close relationships among people. Usually relationships between the minister/pastor and congregation are not sought out unless the minister/pastor and her/his family are considered by the congregation as one of their own. Decisions are made very informally and often to accommodate everyone’s views.
  • The members of the congregation know their own roles and places within this familial structure. They know their own responsibilities.
  • When things are going smoothly, their demands on interventions or strong leadership of the minister/pastor are minimal.
  • Since the members know what they are supposed to do, this model of being a church can last a long time (in some cases, flourish) even without the presence of a full time minister.

Negatives

  • There is a strong tendency to push against leaderships of outsiders (including ministers) when the key leaders feel that the current status quo will be disturbed.
  • The power and influence of key leaders can easily become authoritarian and abusive when things do not go as the key leaders desire.
  • New individuals (including the newly inducted minister/pastor) may find it extremely difficult to become part of this close knit family if the emotional, cultural, philosophical and theological differences are too far apart.
  • New individuals (including the newly inducted minister/pastor) may find it frustrating to fit in until they figure out who the key leaders are and how to work with these key persons as well as what fault lines divide these key leaders.
  • Depending on the culture that is already in place, in many cases, it is hard to know for a newcomer where the invisible lines of sacred (untouchable) and mundane (things that do not bother the people) are. The newcomer may only find out after crossing the line and has received very negative feedback contrary to the welcome that person initially received.
  • Again, it is important to note that everything has to go through these key leaders--however, many there are--in order to do anything. Especially when a newcomer tries to bring in changes, it is of utmost importance to have the backings from them.

Pastoral Size (Average Sunday worship attendance size: 70-200)

Positives:

  • Unlike the informal leadership of the family size, a structure of leadership is more organized and clearly centred on a few groups of leaders. In the Presbyterian system, the groups are within the session where in our case it is divided into four groups. They are worship, education/mission, pastoral care and finance-maintenance. In order to help the structure function effectively, a pastor/minister becomes the key leader through which all work is organized. The pastor/minister is, however, not the decision maker. All key decisions are made by the session. The minister has been empowered by the session to “delegate the authority, assign responsibility and recognize accomplishments of others” within the church.
  • In practice the pastor/minister is the centre through which all communications are disseminated and most activities are supported and/or led.
  • Membership “looks first to the minister/pastor for direction, inspiration and pastoral care” in most circumstances. Through this leader, the tasks are passed onto others with responsibilities.
  • Leadership naturally falls on the pastor/minister due to having many families rather than one. In order to navigate differences of strong minded groups, the organization functions best when the central leader (minister/pastor) is able not only to be the leader who keeps everyone moving forward together, but also the glue that binds the many different and competing interests of families/groups within the church.
  • Though there is one visible leader, much of what goes on depends on the abilities and commitment of those other leaders who belong to the session.
  • Having one central and visible leader with four sub-groups of leaders, a church can function far more efficiently and effectively compared to a church with one leader.

Negatives

  • When the central/visible leader is lacking in skills of holding the centre, things will fall apart quickly as strong leaders in sub-groups will take over. Often competing values of different groups will paralyze the church.
  • The minister/pastor can easily be overworked and exhausted for trying to meet all the demands that arise from many members. This is so because the minister/pastor is often seen as the go-to person who has the expertise, authority and/or responsibility to meet the needs of membership. In reality, the structure is designed with leaders of sub-groups sharing in the tasks of meeting needs of the congregation due to its size.
  • Communication can easily be bottle-necked at the centre.
  • The session can become nothing more than a support group or loyal followers of the minister/pastor. New ideas and suggestions may not take root if they go against or are not the priority of the minister/pastor.
  • The new persons who are trying to belong to the church become the responsibility minister/pastor primarily and often are unable to become friends with other members due to the lack of connections.
  • The session can easily become dysfunctional when strong leaders of different sub-groups fight for power rather than looking after the best interests of the church. Church may deteriorate into many small clicks.

Program Size (Average attendance of Sunday worship: 150-400)

Positives:

  • Because of its size, it requires democratizing leadership and many leaders taking roles to provide various programs. The lead minister/pastor is no longer the center of leadership. Rather, s/he is an enabler and administrator. Leaders are those who are heading each division/program.
  • Leadership of the church is most effective when leaders of each department are given clear limits and boundaries of responsibilities and authorities are given. Also an easily understood and agreed upon dispute resolution mechanism helps with the smooth functioning of the church.
  • With the accountability and responsibilities residing with each division, creativity and innovation do not require the approval of the whole session. This system speeds up the implementation of the programs, activities and events.
  • With many programs running concurrently, membership and newcomers have many choices and opportunities to be part of what is happening in the church.
  • A clear vision and goals help everyone to know where the church is going.

Negatives:

  • Competition for people, money and resources can be fierce and counter-productive to the overall goal of the church.
  • What one division is doing is unknown to another division. Each group can work in its own silos without realizing what their contributions are to the overall vision of the church as the ownership of one’s program becomes the most important focus.
  • Without the constant review on the overall vision, purpose and goals as well the means to achieve them, needs of membership can easily fall between the cracks.
  • The communication of the church’s main vision and purpose may alienate those members whose faith aspirations do not line up with the vision and purpose.
  • Relationship among membership is minimal unless one fosters deliberate friendship with like minded people.

In the next section we discuss the difficulty we have been experiencing as we transition from one size to another and at the verge of making another move.