Church life – All valuable in God’s service
Most Queensland Baptists worship in small churches. However, some people wonder about the effectiveness and future of small churches. Small-church pastor and writer Karl Vaters identifies what he calls ‘the grasshopper myth’. When the people of Israel gazed into the Promised Land they remarked, ‘All the people we saw there are of great size … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them’ (Numbers 13:32-33).
Vaters argues that many small churches and pastors struggle with this ‘grasshopper myth’. He documents his own journey into wandering, whining and placing blame before he finally arrived at the place where he was willing to accept his call to be a small church pastor—and be proud of it!
So what are the facts about the effectiveness and vitality of small churches? Crossover and Malyon College commissioned the NCLS to undertake a quantitative analysis of the vitality and effectiveness of smaller Australian Baptist churches. For those with a little knowledge of statistics, we asked the NCLS to check the correlations between church size and a range of other factors measured by the national survey in 2011. Correlations just measure how strongly things are related to each other.
The research showed that church size was positively correlated with:
- Church growth (moderate correlation). In other words: Larger churches are more likely to be growing.
- The proportion of switchers (people who have transferred from another church in the last five years) (weak correlation). Larger churches tend to have more switchers.
- Young adult retention (weak correlation). Larger churches had a lower age profile, and a higher youth retention.
Church size was negatively correlated with:
- The proportion of attenders who always or mostly seek to make new arrivals welcome (strong correlation). Larger churches tend to have less people saying they welcome new arrivals.
- The proportion of attenders who agreed that they have found it easy to make friends in the congregation (moderate correlation). In other words: Larger churches tend to have less people saying it was easy to make friends.
- The proportion of attenders in a leadership role (moderate correlation). Larger churches tend to have less people in a leadership role.
- The proportion of attenders who felt that leaders encouraged them to use their gifts and skills to a great or some extent (moderate correlation). Larger churches tend to have less people saying they felt their gifts and skills were being used.
- The proportion of attenders who experienced strong and growing belonging (weak correlation). Larger churches tend to have less people saying they have a strong and growing sense of belonging.
- The proportion of attenders who strongly agreed that they have a strong sense of belonging to the denomination (weak correlation). Larger churches tend to have less people saying they have a strong and growing belonging to the denomination.
Church size did not correlate significantly with (that means it was not related to) the proportion of attenders who:
- had been part of the church for less than five years and who had never previously attended a church
- attended most weeks or more often
- participated in group activities
- had invited someone to church in the previous year
- were certain or very likely to follow up a drifter
- regularly gave 5% or more of their net income to the church
- agreed that the congregation is always ready to try something new
- agreed that leaders inspire them to action
- agreed that leaders communicate clearly and openly
- agreed that leaders encourage innovation and creative thinking
- agreed that leaders help the congregation build on its strengths
What does this tell us? Well, larger churches are more likely to be growing numerically through having more switchers from other churches and retaining their young adults.
However, on almost every other measure of vitality or effectiveness (including converts), smaller churches are doing as well, if not better, than larger churches. Indeed, in terms of friendliness, making new people feel welcome and levels of involvement in ministry leadership, smaller churches are actually superior to larger churches.
In other words, the grasshopper myth is DEAD. Attenders of small churches should in no way feel inferior to those in larger churches. Both are equally valuable in God’s service.