If the church is too large for a minister to not know the name of every person in the congregation is it possible the church has grown too large? Has the minister removed himself from the ability to be a faithful pastor?
Just a thought (not a popular one I bet!)
I cannot pretend to answer that question as a universal declaration, but for me and my spiritual gifting, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” A couple of years ago, I realized that God had saved me from my dream of pastoring a large church so that I could enjoy leisured conversations with folks about the condition of their souls.
What? You waste your time doing that?!?! Unbelievable, no wonder you’ll never pastor a large church… 🙂
(I am joking)
pastors who dont know their people- intimately- arent pastors. they’re c.e.o.’s. as such, they are useless in spiritual terms.
or to put it more bluntly (out of character, i know) – can you imagine just trapsing into some feckless mega-pastors office and having a chat or phoning him up for spiritual solace? hardly. rick warren and his ilk dont bother with such menial tasks. they have underlings to do such drudgery. hence, they are not pastors in any meaningful sense of the word.
I pastor a church of about 75-80 (give or take a few) and I know them all to some degree. Recently we had a funeral at our church that filled the sanctuary to capacity (several hundred) and the funeral director asked me, “Can you imagine if your pews were this full every Sunday?” My thought: I can just keep up with those who come now–I can’t imagine three or four times that many! Even with a staff of multiple pastors, once you grow beyond a few hundred, people start to become faces. Sure, they may connect with small groups within the body, but it becomes virtually impossible to effectively pastor once the numbers get to a certain point.
Ultimately, I agree with the point – you reach a “size” where the guy in the pulpit is simply the preaching pastor, but doesn’t really have relationships with the church.
That said, I don’t know that there has to be one central guy that knows everyone; most of the stuff I read indicates that having a pastoral staff – a staff of elders & deacons who help with all those duties – is not only a good idea, but biblical.
I don’t think that the one pastor has to know everyone – I think everyone needs to have a relationship with one of the pastors at the church. I know my Pastor, and he knows my name, but he’s not the person I talk to when I need advice – I have a couple of other people with whom I have a closer relationship. Both are pastors at the church, but not the lead pastor. If I need to get in to talk to Bro. Mooney, I can, but he’s usually not my first stop.
I think mass effect is what a mega church is all about. Preaching a message to 50 or 60 people, like I do weekly, is awesome and great, but if there were 600 or 6000 in the same place then I have just exponentially increased the effectiveness of my message. Preaching and teaching is about influence. The more people you speak to at one time, the greater your influence becomes. I think there’s a place in the body for mega churches. Yes, it may not be your traditional “pat you on the back” pastoring that small churches have, but if I’m going to preach a message that I feel can be useful for 50, then better that there are 50,000.
@Mark: I think there is some relativity to my answer. In one sense, yes, a pastor can no longer pastor when the crowd swell too large. There is a need for the pastor to rely on the help of deacons/elders/associate pastors, but if it comes to the point where the pastor is no longer in touch with his parishioners, because s/he has relegated all the personal contact to others, then it may be time to reconsider whether one is pastoring or not.
While I understand what Lemuel is saying about giving as many people a chance to hear preaching as possible it seems that this also betrays the misconception that somehow it must be my preaching. While we don’t need to turn away people at the door we also need more pastors who know when they have personally reached the point where they can no longer give pastoral attention to people. At this juncture mentoring other pastors or assisting the church in going to another service with another lead pastor may be wise.
what Jim and Brian L said. 🙂
Majority of human beings can only maintain around 70-100 adult working relationships. Care to guess the average church size in America? I agree mega churches seem or apear to be a bastardized version of how a church should run or feel. However I wonder how many of the people sitting on our pews would still be there if they knew I wouldn’t notice. Is it really my job to keep track of these people? My point being the goal is to create disciples of Christ not disciples of me. I think it’s just as easy to create the latter in a small church as it is in a big church.
I tend to agree with Brad.
The assumption that one head pastor who knows his entire congregation is the only (or “biblical’) way to do it is one that does not pay much attention to the NT or the whole of Church History. In many contexts, (rural, smaller, neighborhood, etx) one head pastor who teaches, counsels, handles the business side, visits homes/hospitals, etc works beautifully. In other contexts, (“mega-church”, even though that is quite a silly title if you have a somewhat developed sense of ecclesiology…) one pastor who teaches, others who counsel, others who visit, etc is probably the way to go.
Great conversation Mark!
Mark, but what do you do if your church is growing? At my church we have grown to 300 including children. I know most by name, and for sure all by face but if we continue to grow I’m afraid that I won’t know them all. It’s not like we can tell them don’t come here we don’t want you. We do have 3 pastors at our church.
@Robert I think 300 is about enough. Time to plant another church maybe?
@Lemuel I cannot agree with your statement that preaching is about influence. It is about faithfulness to God, his word and his people. To preach to 60 or is no less important or needed than 3000. Effectiveness in preaching can only, in my opinion, ever be judged by one’s faithfulness to God and text.
God is God and he asks us to preach whenever and wherever. Unfortunately your argument leads to the minamamlising of small churches because they are small ansd can no longer be effective. God is the effector. Not us.
@Bryan L – Yes.
My point is, how can I pray for these people personally something I believe is one of three keys things I am called to do as a faithful parson) if they are a face. How can I care for these people and journey with them if I don’t know them. I read recently an article about Tim Keller having to preach and then run out of the door to the next service. I’m sorry I like Keller but he’s no pastor. He is a ceo/celebrity and too many pastors want what he does over actual pastoral vocation. Furthermore most churches in Australia are not growing with converts they are growing with transfer growth or people returning to church after a long period of absence.
God knows us by name and i think the Shepherd should as well.
@BrianLP: What if there’s a 2,000 member church, for instance, and the “senior most” pastor has, let’s say, 30 to 40 associate/assistant pastors. If the senior pastor was giving spiritual direction and feeding to those 30 to 40 so that they could do the same to those under them, would the senior most pastor still be pastoring?
JKD – No. I think that is a convenient way to justify mega ministry. It is still a depersonalization of the 1960 or so people under his care.
From the vantage point of a member of the church, a person in the pew, how much should they expect from the lead pastor in terms of personal relationship or contact? What should their expectations be of the rest of the ministers/leaders in the church and the rest of the people in the church? More? Less?
I think they should expect the pastor to know their name and be available if they are in need of care. the minute a pastor farms the task of pastoral care off, they are no longer a pastor.
creation is a thoroughly relational event.
the incarnation is a thoroughly relational event
the trinity is the epitome of personal relationship
scripture is personal in its address both individually and to the people of God
why then do we allow churches to adopt structures and ministries that depersonalize people. any argument that begins and ends with a justification of effect or numbers is on the wrong track.
the pastor is a calling to live in personal relationship with the flock and not to do so from a distance!
@JohnDave: That seems to me to be a denomination, not so much a “church”. I have been at two mega-churches now (Christian Life Center in Stockton, CA; Imago Dei Community in Portland, OR) and it is impossible to receive pastoral care in these situations. Rarely do the assistant function as undershepherds because once the church is that big they become administrative “pastors” of various stripes.
That’s it? What do you need a pastor for for that?
Should they expect more or less from the rest of the ministers or the rest of the church?
EBL I think it is obvious you have never pastored.
Is that it? Does God call us by name? Surely the minister should as well. Knowing the names and faces of the people I care for allows me to pray for for them. care for them. journey with them personally and share God’s word with them. That takes up 40 – 50 hours of my week!
The rest of the community also does this but the pastoral vocation is different to the rest of the church. it is a gospel vocation in which one is called and set apart to preach the word, administer the sacraments, and attend to the cure of souls.
I have never been a lead pastor, you are correct. Is there something wrong with that? I think that’s why its important to ask what a normal church goer like me should expect relationally and personally from my pastor. Seems like a reasonable question.
How many people are members of your church? I think it would be helpful to know what your capacity is and whether you think it has been filled or you could handle a few more people? It might help others evaluate themselves.
If all they should expect of you personally is that you know their names and are there if they need you (I guess if they need advice or something) that’s not really much. You make it sound like you are more involved in the lives of all the people of your church than that, though. Are you? Are you going above and beyond what you think they should expect of you?
We have about 120 members. As I said earlier I would have thought 100 – 300 is a healthy sized church.
I’m involved at varying depths of relationship with people at different times. the point is, I am able to be available because the business does not overwhelm the care.
I think the parish priest model is a far better model than the ceo and more faithful to what pastors are meant to do.
“You make it sound like you are more involved in the lives of all the people of your church than that, though. Are you?” – Well, yes, I guess I am. We like the people in our church and enjoy their company. I don’t do it all alone – we have elders who also do care. but the point is I am able to crae for each of them as the needs arise and where it is appropriate.
What size is the church you attend?
Bryan, I started to respond and my response was super long. Maybe I’ll do a new blog on it and reference this. I always think of Nick, when he says you know your response is too long when it is longer than the original post. Now I know that this post was a short one, so obiviously there will be larger responses, but mine was in paragraphs LOL
120 members? You think that or 100-300 members was the average church size that the biblical writers envisioned?
It sounds like 120 members couldn’t all really expect for you to be that involved in their lives, could they? Could they really expect you to journey with all of them or know everything that goes on in all their lives, or even pray for each of them personally based on intmate knowledge of their lives? Some of them would have to expect you just recognizing them at church and knowing their name whereas others might know you better and expect more from you relationally. You are only one person after all, arent you? How many of those would you say you are really involved in their lives beyond small talk on Sunday or occasional updates of what’s going on in their lives? 60? 40? 20? If this is getting too personal feel free not to answer. I’m just trying to tell what it is that you have in mind.
The size of my church is in the hundreds, possibly over a thousand. Heck it could be well over a thousand. I can’t really tell. It’s large but I wouldnt consider it a mega church. Maybe it is though. My last church was probably around 300.
Do any of your church members read your blog posts?
Please do a blog post about it Robert. I would be interested in your experience especially since you have another job, in addition to pastoring and going to school, don’t you? what do you think each and every church member should at the least expect from their pastor personally?
Enjoying the banter. Yes they do read the posts. I wouldn’t post anything I would stand by or want them to hear.
Bryan you keep missing the point. I know their names and am available to them. Now if all 120 came to me at once then I’d be in trouble! I share the load with the elders but I am available if they would like to see me. I set aside time to visit all members who go to hospital (if I find out before they leave) or have a death or birth in the family etc etc. I also pray for them all. I work my way through the list (so to speak)
there is no number in the bible for church size. I am arguing that in order for a minister to be a faithful pastor or shepherd of their people the church cannot be so large that the congregation is depersonalised (why is that so hard to comprehend).I am arguing from the point of view of the pastor not the congregation (at this stage).
God does not care about the size of the church – he cares about faithfulness.
Does anyone read your blog? 😉
Does your pastor have time for you?
I think a pastor should know something about the people in his church, and be comfortable to sit down and have a cup of coffee with a member of his flock. If he doesn’t know the people in his church, then maybe its time to start a daughter church. I think an optimal sized church would be 100-300 people, and I think its rare for a pastor to really know his flock beyond that number. And Mark, the previous pastor my wife and I had, he and his wife had no time for us.
Doug, that is precisely my point.
In fact, our previous pastor and his wife spent their time trying to get rid of us and we were too stupid to realize their depravity. But that is a story for another time.
Mark: There is a pastor in west Texas whose church has seen tremendous growth over the years and when they reach a certain number of members, they send out members to start new churches. Seems like the ideal way if feasible.
Do any of them comment on here? I wasn’t suggesting that you had anything to hide just curious.
I think my point is that your standard of what should be expeced from the pastor isn’t really that impressive at all and that it only gives the illusion of relationship. Sure you might have 100-300 people at your church but you probably aren’t personally involved in all or the majority of their lives on even the level of a Facebook friend. But that’s ok that you’re not. You shouldn’t be expected to be. You will be close to some and the rest you will have a superficial relationship with if you know them at all. I just think the average church goer shouldn’t expect much relationally of their pastor if they don’t personally know them on the level of a friend (which is gonna be pretty hard once you get over like 30 people) and I think it’s dumb to expect more from the pastor. They should expect there to be some people at the church that they do have that kind of special relationship with and they should expect that the church in general fulfills that relational need, but not specifically one person like the pastor.
As to your questions, only a few people read my blog, and I’m not sure if the pastor of the church I attend has time for me. I don’t really look for him to fulfill any special guidance or care role in my life. I would rather have people who really know me for that rather than one person who I don’t really know that well and who is already stretched thin because too many people depend on him for that sort of role in their life. That wold be the case whether the church I went to had 1000 members or 100.
I think that a church can also be too small. We just left a new start up church. We were founding members. We were there at the first bible study a couple of years before it launched. If you have a personality difference between you and the pastor or his family, too small of a church can pose a challenge.
More read than comment although some do comment from time to time. Mostly on FB or on Sunday! 🙂 (Some have yet to comment here – more at my old blog).
I do agree that their is a tendency for people to expect more from their pastor than is healthy but I have not had this problem at my current church.
Ok, well you come to our church and ask them. That is a pretty big call. Just because I can only say hello or undertake small talk with them doesn’t mean the relationship is deep and committed. You have no idea how much I pray and think about each person in the congregation. Everyday their faces are with me and I uphold them daily in prayer.
I am also involved with them as I hear back from our pastoral care team who do the general visitation (We meet weekly). If i was busy running the church I couldn’t do that. The relationship is by no means superficial. Please don’t place your own pastors approach with mine.
Do you wear boxers or briefs?
The standar is impressive because as you have just said – so few pastors do it!
That is true Cheryl. I am speaking more about the nature of the pastoral call. I think in your situtaion the pastor thought the church was bigger than it was!
“Please don’t place your own pastors approach with mine.”
Please don’t let your insecurity about the size of your church cause you to attack pastors of large churches.
Insecure? Are you kidding me? I have pastored smaller churches than this one.
I meant please don’t think that I have superficial relationships just because your pastor might not have time. How can I attack your pastor I dont know who he is.
Pepsi or Coke?
@Mark: You’re so insecure. 😉
This is not news to anyone who knows me. I do think its strange that only pastors of small churches are judged to be insecure. Maybe I am simply content?
mark i think the real insecurity is in nacho libre’s relationship with his own pastor and his own church background. he feels fairly insecure about said relationship so he projects onto everyone his own distance and thinks it’s normal (and so badly wants it to be that he even defends an indifferent or distant pastor).
it was in fact quite telling that he said in one of his numerous remarks that he didn’t think his own pastor had time for him. that’s sad. but he wants it to be normal. which is probably an even deeper issue in his life and which issue probably led him to a large church where he could be ‘anonymous’. a spectator.
anyway, i wouldnt be too worried about the comments of someone who doesn’t use their own – real – name. they have something to hide.
Hmmm the questions to ask here in light of the Apostles preaching to and caring for thousands raises another perspective.
While it may be true that the CEO of a mega church can’t truly pastor all within the fellowship; perhaps they focus more on pastoring the leadership who do the actual pastoring; or expect the pastoring to happen within smaller groups; much like Moses set up…
In this scenario I have no problems with a mega church… As for the senior pastor of a network of churches only coming twice a year… it seems his role is much like that of the bishops role that happens in the more ecclesiastical church structures.
Some people like the smaller community where they are pastored by the pastor. Others like the energy and perhaps the ability to hide in the crowd more that is produced in the larger churches. On one level the larger churches are able to do a lot more in the community than what the smaller churches are able. Theology aside; I’m thinking of the various medical centres and shelters for teenagers, those struggling with addictions and other community ventures that are in place locally through the ministry of Hillsong.
I think that one is able to pastor others, without the need to actually know that person personally and never meet them. I am thinking of the immense gratitude I have towards Eugene Peterson for example through his writings.
Personally; I have enjoyed my visits to a couple of mega churches; my preference is for the smaller intimate churches to call my home church. What I do struggle with is the current trend towards leadership over pastoring… I do believe that good pastoring can happen within a large church… and one such pastor I have the utmost respect for is John Stott.
uh oh… somebody mentioned Hillsong… but redeems himself mentioning the pastor-scholar extrodinaire John Stott? lol!
Mark, I am going to stick up for El Bryan Libre here – I think I see what he is saying and I see what you are saying – in the words of Delmar in O Brother, Where Art Thou? “I am with you guys!” 🙂
While I agree the pastor probably should be available to relate to anyone and everyone in the congregation on one level or another (knowing them more than just a face) – I think it is up to each individual to engage the pastor on a personal level or not. Some like to do that (I always have – I intentionally engaged my pastor back home and it was easily a “mega church” – though my interactions with him tended to be limited to Sundays). Others, while they enjoy the smaller or larger congregational setting prefer just to relate to others in the congregation or small groups in the larger congregation (the only real way to be known in that setting) but may not feel the need to necessarily engage the pastor(s) except on a super casual basis – and I think that might be just fine.
I think it is up to each pastor to decide for himself or herself if the size of the congregation in which he or she shepherds/leads is too big to remain in their pastoral calling and be comfortable with that.
Another reason for Shared Leadership model. Biblical and functional.
No head honcho with minions “under him.” Elders mutually submitted to each other serving the flock of God.
Are we knowing people through surface small talk on Sundays or by sharing life together mon-fri like a beautiful family.
To answer the post… Yes.
@James: This is something important to consider. I think you are asking a different question that the one that JohnDave asked about mega-churches with a hierarchy of a lead pastor and half a dozen to a dozen under-pastors. You are asking if Mark’s size regulation should apply to a church where there is shared leadership amongst two or three pastor-elders. If there are multiple leaders can the church expand a bit further than if there is one pastor?
And I would want to evaluate the idea of growth vs. making disciples (and the relationship between those)
@James that is the model we use here. I am one of the elders and decisions are made collectively.
@Brian My concern lies primarily in a pastors ability to be a pastor if the church grows to a point beyond the personal (for him – not necessarily the people)
@Craig. I don’t think we can do that to Moses. I feel to apply that kind of an interpretation to Scripture is a misuse of its intent. Furthermore, the Apostles preached to thousands in the beginning but we have to consider that at that point no church structure existed. After Peter’s sermon they went back to the temple. The parting of the ways was a much slower process than Acts would suggest on first reading.
Your argument about size and effect of larger churches is redundant. God does not think that way because he does not need these things to be done for him. Much of what happens in large churches happens because of ego and celebrity not faithful ministry.
@Brian Fulthorp – No we are really not!
I have a few reservations about some of the stuff that is said about mega churches and pastors. A small Anglican church that I fellow-shipped at, was greatly benefited when we did Rick Warren’s “40 days of purpose.”
And my own spiritual journey was enhanced in 1999 / 2000 when I did a diploma of ministry through a mega church and I cannot fault the pastoral care that was set up within that church.
Craig that is good that you had that experience but I am not speaking directly about mega churches rather those who lead them and call themselves a parson.
(Please don’t mention Rick Warren’s 40 days again it hurts my head and causes Jim to erupt with anger! 😉 )
@Mark Stevens… can you clarify what you mean God doesn’t need / want those things done for him? Are you talking about the church engaging within the community?
We should undertake to do these things but God does not NEED us to do them. When you argue effectiveness based on size you are placing emphasis on the wrong syllable. Just because a large church CAN do those things doesn’t justify their existence.
Once again, I am not arguing re. mega churches I am speaking of faithful pastoral vocation and I am sorry in my opinion a mega church pastor (lead senior or whatever) cannot be this.
We’ve come a long way from the first century, haven’t we.
Mark; I think it depends on what criteria we lay on the pastor to be a pastor. I am in agreement with you about restoring the emphasis on pastoring. I completely agree with you.
I do think however that the role of the pastor is not just to pastor; but also to major in equipping the church to pastor itself. This is part of raising up and releasing the congregations gift mix. This is in line with what Paul says in Ephesians about the 5 fold ministry gifts.
The ability to do this, to some extent depends on the pastors / denominational ties / structure and expectations. I think that large churches can fulfil the requirements for great pastoring within the congregation.
What is your thoughts about great preachers of old; who pastored large churches. Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther, John Knox, George Mueller… he not only pastored a large church, he also pastorally cared for thousands of orphans.
A few points I might suggest:
1) I believe you cannot shepherd those you do not know. Shepherds know their sheep, sheep know their shepherds.
2) I think that the normative model set-up in the NT is that of a plurality of elders. And, with that said, the elders are the shepherds. I have emphasised amongst our church that we will not appoint someone into eldership if they are not ready to shepherd in some manner. But many churches function in the model that the pastor-shepherd and the elders are different groups. The elders manage, the pastor cares. I find that hard, at least from the conceptual seed in the NT. So if we have elders, they need to be challenged to be shepherds. If they are not shepherding in some form and fashion, they probably should be released from eldership (though that wouldn’t be a fun one). 🙂 And, as a side note, I am also not up for instituting plurality of elders just because it is the normative model for a local church. At this point, I am the only elder-shepherd at this point in our church. We need more time for people to rise up as shepherds.
3) Because of what I said in #2, I believe having a larger congregation is not inherently evil. If you have 200-300 people, and a handful of elder-shepherds, I don’t think it is out of the question. But the shepherds still need to know the sheep (which includes getting to know their name). And even if you don’t know everyone’s name, there is a concerted effort for all sheep to have the involvement of at least one shepherd.
4) Now, I used to be quite anti-big church. I’ve grown up a bit from that (I hope). I would still not prefer large myself. But I don’t believe it is inherently bad. But what I do find is that, the larger we become (at least in the west), the more we might move into managing rather than shepherding. All shepherding will involved some managing at some point. But that is not the essence of shepherding. But, big does not have to head down the management path, as I can testify from my brothers and sisters in China. Megachurches are there, but they function a lot differently than western megachurches.
5) I think ultimately we need a change in perspective – we have to move away from building upwards and start building outwards.
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