Editor’s Notes: 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark

carey colour headshot 2012_150Carey Nieuwhof is not a United Methodist. Nope, he’s the pastor of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, Canada which is part of a network of churches that have been influenced by Andy Stanley’s North Point Ministries. And yet, he’s a voice we should be listening to because again and again Carey posts pithy articles on church leadership and evangelism that are worth thinking about. Today (which you have have already read) he unpacked the 8 reasons most churches never break the 200 in attendance mark:

You know why most churches still don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance?

You ready?

They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.

Think about it.

There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket.

via 8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark | careynieuwhof.com.

Maybe this doesn’t relate to you, but today Carey was talking to me. You see, the last two churches I’ve served haven’t broken the 200 in attendance mark. One was very close — so close that I attempted to challenge the church by offering to shave my head if the congregation could have 200 in attendance 4 weeks in a row (which only terrified them and led to worship attendance decreasing!) Breaking the 200 person plateau is a goal that I’ve often aspired to, but never reached in my ministry as a senior pastor.

Most of what Carey shares is common sense stuff that most of us in leadership naturally know. And yet, how quickly we forget in the midst of the day to day stuff of pastoral ministry, and the inertia that keeps ministries, committees, and programs in motion far beyond their natural lifespan.

However Carey only tangentially addresses perhaps the biggest issue that those of us in smallerish churches face: the fact that in many cases the people who worship and lead in those churches simply don’t want to be any bigger than they already are.

That’s the struggle isn’t it? You see, for all of the lip service we give that it’s okay to be a smaller church, all the rhetoric we spew that church vitality is found in both large AND small places, we continue to believe that numerical growth is the main measure of church success. Carey himself identifies the struggle in his article:

Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with being a small church. I just know that almost every small church leader I speak to wants his or her church to  grow.

And yet, if the people who make up that church don’t want to be in a largerish church, if they believe that God’s kingdom is best lived out in a small community in which everyone knows your name, if they think that the rural church of their childhood is how God best speaks to them, there is a limit to what a pastor or other leaders can do. When my leaders tell me right out that they prefer a smaller church and don’t want our church to get larger then I am pretty much assured that their desire is likely to prevail for a while.

And we have to make a decision as a denomination — do we really believe our rhetoric about the value of small churches . . . or not? If we do, what then are the models of  community and faith life that can ensure that these places are places filled with (as the vital congregations report defined vitality) “the dynamic state of engagement that connects people to God, each other, and the world in profound ways.”

I agree with everything that Carey suggests . . . especially if I believe that we should be moving toward becoming a church with over 200 in worship. I, like the small church leaders that Carey mentions, want my church to grow.

But I’m not sure that is what the body that I try to lead really wants, and I then have to ask myself if I’m not trying to force a belief that says that bigger is better on them rather than leading them to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ no matter what size we are.

Holy Spirit, come show us the way.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and MethoBlog.com. Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Bottom line? My opinion….. Many small umc congregations would be better off if the hierarchy would just leave them alone. But then, the general umc would not be able to cram insurance, apportionments, etc etc etc down little churchs' throats. "Free" methodism anyone?


I agree that we should value small churches for what they are and not force a model upon them that they do not aspire to. Moreover, I really dislike the assumption that bigger is always better. The "corner store" vs. "supermarket" comparison is very problematic to me. Churches are not businesses. Christianity is not capitalism (quite the contrary). We should try to bring others to Christ, but we should not use the capitalist model to do so.


I'm not sure that in comparing corner stores to supermarkets Carey is promoting business models as the best means of organizing local churches. Rather, he is pointing out that inasmuch as the two types of stores must be organized differently in order to compete effectively within their local business contexts so too must small- and medium-sized churches be organized for ministry differently in order to most effectively meet their local missional needs. And while bigger is not necessarily better, planting more seeds of the gospel in fertile ground is certainly preferable to casting a few seeds indiscriminately.

Chad Brooks

I am a big fan of Carey. The most interesting part of his ministry story is the fact he was a Presbyterian pastor who led three small churches to leave the denomination and become Connexus. He occasionally writes to the mainline and holds a very interesting perspective.

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