Sizing Up a Congregation (Book Summary)

Sizing Up a Congregation (Arlin J. Rothauge, 1986)

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This book is extremely useful for pastors, church leaders to understand how to adapt leadership style and strategies based on congregation sizes. A Program Church pastor cannot shepherd the same way as he did in a Family church. Understanding these differences is crucial for ministry success.

Each of the four types of churches are grouped by number of active members. Rothauge defines active membership as the average attendance at worship over a one-year period. His key hypothesis states:

The most effective means  of carrying out a new member ministry varies with the size of the congregation.

I have listed the advantages and limitations for each category of churches. Remember, there is no right or wrong size of churches – just different types. Each type if handled properly can attract and retain new members.

Family Church (0-50 members)
+ Very close ties and bonds.
+ Every member knows each other well.
+ Needs to specialise their program due to limited
+ Danger signals are easily spotted.
– One-cell structure (lesser talents, resources).
– The patriach/matriach are the main figures, not the
– Slower to gain acceptance except through
gatekeeper and patriach/matriach.
+/- News passes fast through the grapevine.

Pastoral Church (50-150)
+ Emergence of central pastor
+ Multi-cellular structure (more talents and resource)
+ Easier for newcomers to enter
– Members need to be friendly to newcomer. Easier membership but not inclusion.
– Central leaders need to delegate authority, assign responsibility and recognise accomplishments.
– Strong demands on central leader.
– Conflict management is survival.
– Newcomers need to relate to the pastor. Pastor only has limited time so growth might be limited.

Program Church (150-350)
+ Team leadership, no more central leader.
+ Many programs, resources, facilities.
+ Can create bridges with unchurched through many
types of programs.
– Clergy cannot know members well and mostly relate to leaders. Need to train “Member Care Teams” to do ministry.
– Superficial relationships between members except
through cell groups.
– Leadership need strong public relations to ensure whole church knows what each group is doing.
– Need good administration process for entry of
– Easy for newcomers to leave. Require close
monitoring to guard the back door.

Corporation Church (300-500+)
+ Fuller expression of Program Church. More complex.
+ Governing boards and a “legendary” head pastor.
+ Sense of belonging, pride and loyalty to huge church.
+ Some find their way into small groups, some prefer to remain anonymous.
– Impossible to know members except through small  groups. Great efforts needed to ensure incorporation.
– Significant changes in membership out of leadership control. External factors shake the boat easily e.g. charismatic leader, cultural shifts.
– Need to start satellite churches in population centers to keep with population growth.
– The greater the size of the congregation, the more intentional effort will be required for each function.

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