I’ve been considering when a strugglng church becomes too small to effectively turn around. Not that God can’t do miracles when only “two or three” are gathered, but there should be a general rule of thumb for when a church comes into being and when it should be laid to rest.

This is a concern because the average size for a church in North America is 75 attending. It is less in some other countries – or even this country – where the house church is the model; you are limited to how many people can fit in your living room or garage.

But in general, have the churches are less than 20 families, and many are a lot smaller: 35, 25, 15.

Which brings me to my question. How small can a church get before it’s not economically viable to keep it open?

With a congregational style church, part of the answer depends on whether the pastor and staff are full-time, part-time or unpaid. If your congregation is 5 families, making about $35k a year each, a tithe of the gross only nets the church $18 grand. What pastor can support a family on that?

If the church is in a denomination where the diocese or synod pays the salary, the congregation can get smaller, because someone else is frontloading the expenses to maintain a presence in that neighborhood. But that also means the local congregation is at the whim of someone else on whether to keep the building open or not. (I remember the furror when a local Catholic diocese tried to close an underperforming facility. Ten times the number that ever attended protested the closure of “their” church, the one they wanted standing when they needed to be married or buried!)

What I’ve been considering is the concept of a minyan. In Jewish practice, the minimum for a synagogue is 10 men. Similarly, in Islam, it takes 10 men at prayers to sustain the mosque. Jesus had his 12, but “one was a devil” and another a betrayer.

With 10 men, that’s probably 30 people: the men, their wives, one or two children for half of them, plus a few widows. Perhaps you can get as small as 10 family units, counting the Singles / single parents and widows, meaning about 15 adults.

In my opinion, if the church gets below 15 and stays below 15 for several weeks, it’s time to consider closing the church. God can still raise up dry bones, but only if the leadership is committed to nurturing the new growth.

Advertisements