A friend of mine who pastors a church of 120 people in a town of 1,000 recently told me about a strange encounter he had with a megachurch pastor in another area about what constitutes a megachurch. The megachurch pastor led a church of 10,000 in a town of 600,000 and told my friend that if your church was reaching at least 1 percent of the population of your town, then you were leading a megachurch.
His assertion made my friend wonder if this was really true or was it just faulty logic. He asked this pastor how he would classify a church that was reaching 12 percent of the town’s population. The pastor was stunned.
“Who is doing that?” he asked.
“Our church is consistently running 120 people in a small town of 1,000!” my friend responded. To which the megachurch pastor quickly replied, “Yes, but that’s a different model .”
Beyond Raw Numbers
In some ways, the megachurch pastor was right. Few people would argue that pastoring 120 people is different from pastoring 12,000 people. And we’d all say that leading a church in a fast-growing suburb is significantly different from leading one in a rural community or complex downtown urban setting. So in some ways comparing the two ministry contexts is apples and oranges. They are different.
But in other ways the megachurch pastor was dead wrong. From the perspective of the people reached and actual community impact, reaching 12 percent of a small town offers a much greater result then reaching 1 percent of a larger city, regardless of the raw numbers’ magnitude.
This “percentage of impact” number might be a strategic and effective tool to help us equalize our understanding of the missional impact of a church and get away from what I think is a shortsighted idea that the only factor that really matters is how many people gather in one place at one time.
The “percentage of impact” number is simply the number of people attending the church compared to the number of people in the local community. When you consider this formula, a church of 120 is a significant force in a small community of 1,000. I won’t argue with the idea that a church of 12,000 is certainly impressive. But it’s much less of a force in a community of 600,000. To be equal in percentage of impact to the church of 120 in a town of 1,000, the megachurch would need to be a church of 72,000 attendees.
Right or wrong, the perception in the American church world is that, when everything is said and done, the more people you have listening to you each Sunday/weekend, the greater leader you are. This idea that quantity is always better is an American idea, not a kingdom idea. America is a great nation, but American values don’t always synch up well with kingdom values.
Kingdom is about impact, and in the kingdom, your percentage of impact number means more than how many you have in the room at the weekly worship gathering.
Other kingdom measurements that apply regardless of the size of the gathering are metrics such as:
- Ratio of baptism to attendees.
- Ratio of leaders being developed to attendees.
- Ratio of weekly conversations with lost people per member, etc.
These metrics actually tell you something about how well your church is tracking with the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost.
When you set out to plant a new church or you’re leading an existing one, make sure you measure the things that matter. If you focus on actions and activities that increase your missional impact, you won’t have to worry about how many people show up to hear you speak. The crowd will increase as you stay focused on the mission of Jesus.
Steve Pike serves as national director for the Church Multiplication Network, which collaborates with church multipliers to effectively equip, strategically fund and innovatively network new faith communities in America. Follow him on Twitter @StevenPike.
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