What Size Must a Church Be to Trigger the Need for Revitalization?

The question came through Church Answers Central, our forum where pastors and church leaders seek feedback in a safe and private place with peers of like mind and subject matter experts. Almost 2,000 church leaders are part of this forum, interacting with each other nearly every hour of every day.

Does the size of a church determine the need for revitalization? Is revitalization based solely on numerical declines? Most would see the need for revitalization in a congregation that shrinks from 150 to 30 in attendance over five years. But what about the church in decline from 1,000 people to 750 people in attendance over ten years?

Several reasons exist as to why a church enters a period of decline.

  • Inward focus – Evangelism is absent, and the church no longer moves outward.
  • Doctrinal apathy – The fundamentals of the faith are not a priority.
  • Spiritual lethargy – People care more about their preferences than discipleship and holiness.

These problems are common in established churches. Most will recognize them as catalysts of decline. But the question in Church Answers Central dealt with the size of the church, and I believe it’s an excellent one to consider. Numerical attendance declines can be evidence of an inward focus, doctrinal apathy, and spiritual lethargy.

The size of the church determines the urgency of the revitalization, not necessarily the need. In the example above, the church of 750 people in attendance likely does not naturally feel any urgency for revitalization. However, the church of 30 is more apt to feel a sense of urgency. Churches usually feel urgency before recognizing what is needed to fix the problem.

Urgency is typically felt in one of two ways:

  1. Facility: The room is too big.
  2. Finances: The revenue is too small.

The facility urgency. Numerical declines will trigger urgency when so few people attend that the room feels vacuous. Of course, this feeling will depend on the size of the room. Three hundred people in a room seating five thousand is a problem. Thirty people in a room that seats one hundred may not feel like a problem.

Churches are notorious for living in a state of tension between fragility and resiliency. They hang on by their fingernails, but those nails are quite strong. A church can decline in a vacuous room and still not act if the finances support what is left. This support can come from deep cash reserves or a key donor who keeps giving.

The financial urgency. Not every church has deep reserves or a key donor. Financial urgency occurs when the revenue declines to the point where the church lacks cash flow. In other words, when what is coming in through giving no longer supports the bare minimum expenses. A church can go from complete complacency to an all-out emergency in one month when the bills are not paid.

The attendance trigger point of revitalization is more art than science—more feeling than fact. I’ve seen churches with ten or twenty people attending in a room that seats hundreds and still not exhibit any urgency. Some churches will live off cash reserves for years. Urgency is more often about how people feel than the raw numbers.