Four church cultures shaped by size

Generally there are considered to be four church system or culture patterns formed generally around congregational size: The Family Church (50 or fewer active members); the Pastoral Church (50 to 150); the Program Church (150 to 350); and the Corporate Church (350 and up). The last two categories are not very relevant to CCC, so I won’t even describe the third one. As you read, ask yourself which characteristics are or have been predomininant at CCC.

FAMILY church – A church of 50 or fewer people operates like one extended family. There is a lot of individual personal ownership of what is happening. It almost always has one key person in it (Patriarch or Matriarch) who is actually making the decisions. The members expect the pastor to be the family chaplain, or token spiritual person, in the sense of baptizing, marrying and burrying and comforting. What they want is pastoral care. Period. The pastor who tries to go beyond that, to being a change agent, will simply be tolerated, not heeded. These churches know that “pastors are short term, we members are long term.” Pastors are often disappointed to find that after they leave all their initiatives have disappeared, and, like footsteps in wet sand at a rising tide, little trace of them is left. Unless, that is, the pastor was shrewd enough to ferret out who the true decision maker is, and has conversations with them in which the Patriarch or Matriarch comes to believe that repainting the front door of the church is “their” idea. Such ideas will actually turn into actions and effects will last longer.

Graphic summary of Family Size church characteristics

A big danger for pastors in these churches is that many people will complain to the pastor about the person who is actually calling the shots, and the unwise pastor will choose a showdown, a confrontation. At that point they will discover no one is standing with them over against the Patriarch or Matriarch and it will soon be time to take a call.

PASTORAL Church – This church ranges from 50 to 150 active members and is big enough that no one clan or family system runs the show. The pastor can have more power and influence, but needs to manage multiple Matriarchs/Patriarchs. Every member will have an expectation of having their spiritual needs met personally by their pastor, at short notice if needed. The sense of being a family will remain, but the closer this church gets to 150 the more that will be strained. Delegating tasks becomes important for the pastor. The biggest danger in such a church is pastoral burnout, as the larger it gets the harder it will be on the pastor, particularly if they are not good at setting boundaries. A highly relational pastor will do well in such situations. The growth of the church will depend largely on the popularity of the pastor. Most churches are in this size category.

Graphic summary descript of Pastoral Size church 50 - 150

PROGRAM Church – 150- 350 members. CCC has not been that size (yet),Graphic summary descript of Program Size church 150 - 350 but when you get to this size the pastor becomes more of the executive director of the programs of the church than spiritual care-giver. In this category it will now be the programs/ministries of the church that will need to meet people’s needs. The pastor will need to  be recruiting and motivating and training the leaders of these programs to keep things going. “Trickle down spirituality” is a phrase I use for what needs to happen. The move from 150 members to 200 and higher than that has proven to be the most difficult of transitions for churches because of the major change in roles and expectations that needs to happen. The pastoral size expectations of personal contact with the pastor, for instance, is a hard one for people to let go of when the next stage is moved into.

The biggest challenges and crises happen whenever a congregation goes up through one of the thresholds, or down from one category to another. Both pastor and congregation need so much understanding of how that changes things that these are hard to go through smoothly. Which category do you think CCC is most like? Has she moved back and forth between categories? Feel free to comment and create conversation.

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