Wednesday, 8 November 2017

When is a congregation "too big"?

About two weeks ago, my post on this blog asked the question, "When is a congregation 'too small'?"  This post asks the related question "When is a congregation 'too big?"

In my opinion, big congregations, of whatever the faith tradition, can be good congregations. 
  • They can provide a good environment for people to be encouraged in their journey of faith. 
  • They can provide a variety of more focussed opportunities for nurture in faith, depending on the different needs of different people. 
  • The larger number of people available to a large congregation, and their diverse talents, means that the congregation has the chance to offer a level of excellence in its worship and in the other aspects of its life than a smaller congregation cannot.
  • The resources of a large congregation means that they can be generous to a range of community and wider needs.
  • The comparative anonymity of a large congregation can be a liberating thing for many people. 
Big congregations can be good congregations.

However, in my opinion, a congregation has become "too big" when essentially it has become merely a vehicle for the ego of its minister, priest, vicar, rabbi, imam, pastor, etc.  When the main (or at times, the only) point of contact among the members of the congregation is the person "up-front", that's when the congregation has become too big.

Warning signs of this pastor-centeredness include:
  • Many people in the congregation tend to agree uncritically with all of the pastor's opinions, not only on specifically religious issues (which is bad enough), but also on issues of politics, sex, bioethics, gender, parenting, etc.
  • Some people in the congregation tend to copy the pastor's catchphrases, mannerisms, jokes, musical tastes, and even dress style
  • In the wider community, many people refer to the congregation, not by its name, but as "Rev. [name]'s church".
  • Within the denomination, some people joke about the congregation as being "Rev. [name]'s fan club".
  • The only ecumenical, denominational, or community programmes supported by the congregation are those for which the pastor is personally enthusiastic.
  • If the pastor is on annual leave, study leave, or long service leave, attendance at worship drops until he/she returns.
  • When the pastor moves to another congregation, retires, becomes seriously ill, dies, leaves the denomination in anger over some doctrinal issue, or is convicted for embezzlement or some other offense, half the congregation will leave as well.

Big congregations can be good congregations.  Most of them are.

Some big congregations, particularly if they are unhealthily pastor-focussed congregations, can be very dysfunctional congregations.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.