Does Church Size Matter?

Talk to certain critics of Reformed theology, and you might think something about the doctrines of grace inhibits church growth. Talk to some proponents of Reformed theology, and you might reach the same conclusion.

We—both the pastors up front and the Christians in the pews—assign spiritual value to church size, depending on our background and perspective. We see large churches as a sure sign of God’s faithfulness in some cases, and small churches as a sign of God’s faithfulness in other cases. So what, really, does church size matter?

That’s the question discussed in this video by pastors Kevin DeYoung, Matt Chandler, and Mark Dever. Their friendly banter touches on serious subjects, including:

  • the awesome responsibility of giving pastoral account for thousands of souls;
  • the urgent need for more ambition to see Jesus Christ change many lives; and
  • the practical nightmare of exponential church growth.

They also suggest some helpful resources, no matter your church size. If you’re laboring with all your might and not seeing much fruit, you may benefit from reading about D. A. Carson’s faithful father in Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor. And if you’re serving in a church enjoying a season of rapid growth, you’ll learn from reading Tim Keller on “Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How Strategy Changes with Growth.”

Watch the full video to learn more about the true marks of church growth and the pride that plagues Christian leaders no matter the size of their ministry.

  • Steve Cornell

    Another discussion that could help is to ask what a biblical vision for community life should look like and how churches of different sizes facilitate it. I’ve wrestled with this because no matter the size (and perhaps size shouldn’t matter in any determinative way), the structures of most Churches simply do not and really cannot adequately facilitate the kind of “life together” envisioned for the followers of Jesus. (We have about 3-4 hours of structured contact each week. Of that time, only about 1-½ hours allows for meaningful interaction and this is often limited based on group size).

    Perhaps I missed it, but I think it would help to tune the discussion in this direction. I briefly explored this matter in relation to our ministry here:

    • John Q. Public

      Great point, Steve.

  • Jerry Nanson

    I agree with steve, I also think a more pertinent question is the concept of multi-campus churches and what seems to me to be empire building rather than church planting.

    • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

      Jerry, there are other TGC videos that wrestle with multi-site stuff.

      • Jerry Nanson

        Thanks, Steve, I’ll do a search and see what comes up. Blessings.

  • Neil

    This video starts out with presuppositions that the institutionalized church of today is the same as the church in the 1st century. Then Matt Chandler makes a statement about pastors and elders. Are these not the same? In addition, how does one “join” a church?

    The western world always defines the church as if the “church” is the center of theology. Most larges churches get large because people come to hear a dynamic sermon every week. What they see is a church that produces the service well. I mention this because the focus is on the structure, the format, the sermon, the leadership, and the dynamics of a mega-church.
    What is a successful church? Most “laity” will gravitate to a large church because they believe that the “church” is doing something right because they are a mega-church. The danger will come when the laity makes the church the center of their spiritual life and not the Lord Jesus Christ. The mega-church system provides what the modern consumer wants. State of the art sound systems, professional performers, dynamic orators, elaborate visual devices and stadium parking make Sunday mornings a time focused on the church more than it focuses on the Gospel. What tends to happen is that overhead and everyday finances of these mega-churches require incredible budgets that would make major corporations look silly. The main speaker becomes a CEO that would increasingly achieve “superstar” status. Adding to this is ministries like the Gospel Coalition that not only fuel these ministries; they contribute to the problem of figuring out how to come at odds with the various problems that surface (this video is as an example).

    What no one in these clergy/laity systems (Dever, Chandler and DeYoung are all a part of this system) will admit is that the system itself is the problem. In this video alone, you see the exclusiveness and tension that mark these church systems. These men are professional who are paid to perform. They are responsible for their geographical area and they believe the greater the attendance the greater the impact to the kingdom. If they fail to perform or live up to the church down the street, this will detract from their ministry and could cause them to reach further into the purpose driven model bag. Instead of protecting the sheep and disciplining them to become witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ, they become a church that worships itself. This will not change anytime soon. Therefore, it is imperative that each believer discern the times and test the sprits to see if they are from God. Unfortunately, the mega-church record speaks for itself because we have all bought into a system that separates the holy priesthood of believers who rely on the devices and philosophies of man instead of the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    • Patrick


      Your assertions are pretty much exactly backward in regard to The Village (the church Chandler is the lead teaching pastor of). I can’t speak for other churches, but I can the Village because I am a member there.

      I’m not going to go into any point-by-point discussion (as they are mostly not effective in this kind of forum), but will comment on your general tone and attitude. Why all the hate? I’m just wondering. Church looks different all over the world, yet you would imply that there is one way to do it? The “mega”-church model (which I feel doesn’t represent the Village, I go to a satellite campus and have amazing fellowship with my brothers and sisters) CAN let people slip through the cracks, but that doesn’t mean it DOES. People choose the level of participation of any sized church.

      I love small churches, big churches, loud churches, quiet churches. As long as the first priority is the GOSPEL, what difference does the rest really make? I’d challenge you to rethink this bias, or at least be able to encourage people in whatever kind of church they want to go to. I grew up attending a stagnant small-town Presbyterian church where the Gospel wasn’t really preached, I didn’t know who Jesus was until college. That is a failure, but it’s not because the church was small, it was because the preaching wasn’t Gospel centered.

      Anyways, I can see that you’re a passionate person, but maybe your zeal is in the wrong place? Maybe encouraging the brethren is more glorifying than tearing it down? I don’t know, who am I to say? I’m not a “professional” clergyman, I’m a part of the “laity.”

      • Neil

        How do you see hate in my response? Where have I posted anything that is anything but love for the church? We need to understand the definitions of “love” and the “church” to understand why there is a major problem with the clergy/laity system. The “church” has become the center of worship if all we do is write books and write articles on how we should be doing church. Brother, we are the church. The Holy Spirit gifts every believer differently within the local geographical locations so that we are fully equipped to edify and partake in fellowship of the body. Passivity is an epidemic in the institutionalized church because the clergy bear the load of building up and sanctifying the body. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is quenched within the lives of the individual “laity” because they remain stuck on the milk of the word. Combine this with the many heretical teachings from today’s elite self-proclaimed evangelical voices and you have major division in the church. This makes no mention of the tremendous strain on the clergy who devise ways to make church meaningful because their livelihood depends upon it. Monologues only have so much of an impact when most people attend weekly to get their fix on Sunday morning. The transforming power of the Gospel should be a daily reminder of the grace of God and our thanksgiving and praise should be a daily occurrence. Praise God that Chandler preaches the Gospel. Praise God that you fellowship every Sunday. This is not a rebuttal against individuals who shepherd their flock with humility, truth and grace; this is a rebuttal against a system that time and time proves that it is the problem.

        • Patrick

          First off, I apologize for coming off too strong. :) I tend to have too strong of words, especially during the election season, I must watch my knee-jerk reactions to things more carefully.

          I agree with many of the point you make, as well as Paul in the post below. People are the church, we are the church. I think after reading your and Pauls comments that this kind of problem doesn’t have an easy solution. Do cap how big a congregation can be? Are home groups the only way to create community? How do we incorporate the Spirit in worship?

          I can only posit my own experience. I know TVC doesn’t do everything right, they are all human after all. I guess when I go to church I don’t see a big fancy building, or some type of institution, I see a room full of my friends that I love and walk through life with. I get to share in worship with 400 of them at a time and it feels intimate and small. I don’t feel quenched in the Spirit and after service many of us stick around and pray for each other and minister to each other.

          I don’t see this type of thing happening so much at some of the other services, so it might be unique to the service I attend, maybe it is an anomaly??? I know that it is possible to have well-founded, meaningful, deep community at mega-churches, at least as much as anywhere else. Like you said, we are the church and we make of it what we will.

          There are a lot of resources devoted to the ‘church’, what do we do? I guess this conversation has been going on for a long time, and I’m wondering what we do with this system. If it is a broken, how to we fix it? I’m not asking to provoke anything, I really don’t know. I guess that’s where, for me, the “rubber meets the road” is if the gospel is being proclaimed and people are seeking out others to walk with. I really feel that your questions are legitimate, so now what? Where do we go from here?

          I appreciate you and your thoughts brother.

          • Neil

            There is no need to apologize. You have a passion for the Lord that is evident in this GC ministry. There is no question that most pastors enter into ministry to give God glory. The real question is what do they do when the Holy Spirit convicts them that how they have been taught and what they learned falls short to the word of God?

            Here is what we need to do. We need to pray for the church to come to the knowledge that the institutionalized clergy/laity system in all of it’s forms must be reconsidered. The current state of the church seems to be heading into the early stages of Revelation. I say this because this Postmodern era has done more for liberalism then any time in history. Absolute truth has taken a back seat to relativism. The push for a universal religion is not common knowledge. When we hear evangelical pastors preaching their visions and we see this push for contemplative prayer, there is this sense that these leaders believe that the kingdom of God can come down without the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Add the push by liberal pastors (who are really wolves) redefinition of sin and you have this idea that the Bible believing Christian is nonconforming to the world’s desires. Where in God’s word does it say that the whole world will become followers by the works of His church?

            We need to preach the Gospel; not just every Sunday but in our homes and in the workplace. It is not our lives that speak truth, it is the Holy Spirit within us proclaiming a message of salvation. We need to be ambassadors of our faith that gather together as believers to worship, edyfy, care and encourage each other. These are evil days and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to show us discernment as we joyfully wait for the coming of our King.

            • Rob Gates

              You paint with too broad of a brush! You seem to indict these three brothers (Dever, Chandler, Deyoung) as being nothing more than “hired hands” in the “institutional church.” That may not be your intended meaning, but you come off somewhat judgmental towards brothers you seem to know little about. You convey the attitude that these men are not preaching the gospel everyday (only on Sunday?), and are somehow not leading their flocks with God’s Word, and etc. If you have hard facts about these men and their ministries, then by all means make your observations (appropriately). But please don’t leave an impression of these men as being nothing more than institutional game-players (“paid to perform” as you say). I think they deserve more respect than that–even if you disagree with them for receiving a salary from their local church.

            • Neil

              It’s not my intended meaning to say that these men are nothing more than hired hands. What we all need to do as brothers is determine if the institutionalized church is what Christ intended for His body. The hireling position of the “senior pastor” is not in the New Testament. I know there are dedicated, spirit-filled men who fill this role but it is the position itself that creates many problems. I also know quite a bit about these men ((Dever, Chandler, DeYoung) because they post blogs, preach sermons, and create websites for the whole world to see. They (As do many others) do this as if they are the leading voices of the evangelical world. I do not have a problem with anything they write or say unless it conflicts with scripture. Therefore, it is the duty of every believer test the spirits. The problem is not the man going in to the pastoral ministry; it is what the pastoral ministry does to the man.

              What I hope and pray is that some super pastor would boldly step up to the pulpit and acknowledge that his position and the clergy/laity system is not in the New Testament. Until that happens you will have articles, sermons and websites by pastors on how pastors can become better leaders, how they can make disciples out of the layperson, and how they can make their church a better place of worship.

      • Paul

        I’m a Covenant Member of The Village Church. I have been attending for 4 years and my wife has been attending for 6 years. Both of my previous roommates had been going for 8 and 9 years respectively. I find many of Neil’s initial comments founded and your assertions unfounded. And when I was amongst the singles I was perhaps the most connected person amongst 6000 singles. I was asked to be on committees for helping the singles and my closest group of guy friends ran Road Rules (a then singles outreach). I’ve been in a home group of a Pastor at The Village Church. I’ve attended the Men’s Morning Bible studies. I’ve served as a table leader at The Men’s Conference. I’ve served at The Marriage Conferences and the Singles Conferences. I’ve served on Sunday service teams at both the Dallas and Flower Mound campuses.
        I only write as to protect Neil, Patrick I believe you tried to stand on the crutch of experience to make another feel like what they see is false, but there were 12 disciples with Jesus Christ, none of them stood with Him at the cross, the 12th, well, he had Satan enter him despite being a ‘member’ of the 12. And of the other 11, which of them said when Jesus said “one of you is about to betray me” – Oh!, I know, it’s Judas!” Let us not forget, we don’t see perfectly yet, let’s not make the mistake of saying our church doesn’t have faults or failings. Paul, said he was the worst of sinners. Let us do likewise and empathize with this brother and acknowledge truths where they are truths and help them see truth in areas where they might be lacking. And then let us pray, we may see our own errors in our own assertions.
        That being said, I love all 3 of these speakers. I’ve read and listened to many of their blogs and sermons over the years. I especially love Kevin DeYounge and Matt Chandler as they’ve got a lion’s share of the time between the three. I’ve read a bit of Mark Dever, but not as much as the other two. Chandler and DeYounge often come up in my daily apologetics with believers and unbelievers alike. Needless to say, they’ve helped me greatly in helping me see things more clearly. I don’t agree with them entirely though. They have a special privilege that affords them certain relationships and I have one where it affords me certain relationships. I can probably have more intimate relationships with those at TVC than they can in that I don’t have as many people wanting to meet me. I can continually pour into the relationships I have without much fanfare. That’s not to say I am not inclusive, but I’m speaking mostly to the activity of others towards me.
        Chandler is a great evangelist – I would say he’s not as much of an expository preacher and he’s not really a pastor/teacher. It could be he has gifts there, but the current structure (or format – what Neil was asserting – if I am understanding him right) doesn’t allow him to be ‘pastor-care’ and ‘teacher’ as much, if at all. He’s a preacher, and perhaps the most dynamic in all the evangelical circles today. That doesn’t qualify him as “dynamic speaker” or “superstar” I’m not sure what is and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s using his gift. But having church experience, having seen open meeting church assemblies to megachurches I would have to agree the structure is getting in the way. As Devers says, “how can you do so (pastor) in an edifying way…” To get “connected” at The Village Church you really have to attend awhile, people come to hear Chandler and they come because there’s 6,000+ singles in the church. You hope they find fertile ground for edifying relationships.

        But to argue that the structure hasn’t gotten the best of the leadership there is to not hear their prayers and stresses. And I think they realize they don’t have the gifts for this in the current staff they have, they have to empower others. It’s a poor church though, many young members (attend, but not a lot of $$) – but that being said, I think they could and should have Bible studies and the church doors open more so for prayer meetings and such where members can come in and meet at.
        I worry about the Spiritual nature of the church in big assemblies. I see it as an obstacle at The Village Church. They’ve sought out CJ Mahaney who’s come several times to help share what they do to help incorporate a more spiritually led service from the sharing of a prophetic message/tongue (push the red button to mute them) to other facets.
        But size immobilizes worship, prayer meetings, and even their elder led prayer meetings. In a more freely led spiritual church (of which I’ve been a part of a few in my life). Being a megachurch (like TVC, 11,000 members) immobilizes because the eldership doesn’t KNOW who will be speaking or sharing. You can’t have someone speak a tongue, read a passage, bring a hymn to even the prayer elder led prayer meetings. And you can’t, because why? Because they don’t KNOW them. If they knew them, they would gladly let or have them share. But they don’t know who walks in the doors.
        But the megachurch is no new concept, Spurgeon had a megachurch – and he’s a great theologian, pastor, and teacher (to me at least) – I can’t speak of those who were in his assembly. He may not have been the ‘pastor’ or ‘teacher’ type – to them. And if you read his writings, he laments this. He suffered frequently from depression. Some physiological factors of course which are well documented, but there were factors seen in his writings of shepherding those who attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon’s boiler room prayer group is a great testament to that. When people asked the secret of his success, Spurgeon replied, “My people pray for me.”
        It’s OK to say we have short failings as a church, we don’t have to cover for shortfailings. Admit them so Christ’s power can rest on them (2 Cor 12). The Village has short fallings in some of the areas that were pointed out by Neil. It’s OK to say that. I think the Satellite Campuses are not a good idea, Piper who’s church has satellite campuses, never liked it either – but it was a necessity at the time. Speaking of Piper, how about the humility in his stepping down – because he felt he wasn’t as good at managing people and couldn’t be ‘in touch’ with them as he once was…Love that.
        Sorry, I digress, I believe they should appoint a pastor at the satellite campuses (new ones in Ft Worth and Plano). A satellite campus is a testimony to a rockstar teacher, plain and simple. To suggest not, is crazy. The whole point of the screen is to get that pastor into that building. He won’t be in touch that that assembly, especially when it’s being played later on in the evening – not even during the same time he’s preaching! Otherwise Chandler would be in touch with all his youtube watchers too who are watching the videos at 1am in Africa. To suggest that satellite campuses are not enabling or the result of a ‘rockstar preacher’ is pretty crazy. Try the opposite. Take away the screen. See what happens. People drive to see the preacher. The Satellite campuses result of demand – they want Chandler and they want fellowship in their area. What’s missing, the pastoral connection with their lead teaching pastor. It’s true. It’s not problem to admit it. I believe Chandler would as well. What I hope is that when TVC is approached by or sees those with gifting who can lead such a flock and the members are willing – they will help that man or group of men take the lead of that church.
        I have a friend who meets with 70+ church elderships year in and year out for periods of 3-5 days in over 40 countries internationally for over 35 years and he can speak on the nature of churches around the world. With such perspective it’s easy to see the tangible workings of The Holy Spirit in one church versus another. I wish TVC and these other megas would meet with him. But I doubt they would. But then again, I haven’t asked them to do so, and regretfully the relationships with pastors haven’t led to a showing of my character or revealing in such a way that would enable such a meeting. I don’t see that as wrong or right.
        Willing to empower people. I think Chandler is. I think they say they are and I think they’re trying to do so through Home Groups. But that might be quite awhile before that works itself out. They don’t have great people managers or those are good with discernment just yet. They might get there in 10, 15, 20 years…maybe sooner. It’s definitely spoken about – but not sure it’ll get there anytime soon. Those who are willing to weather the storm for 10, 15, 20 years might see some serious fruits here. I’m praying to where I should be in this process.
        My question from this video as I’m not wanting to complain or criticize. Only solutions.
        My question is this, is it better to be a home group leader in a church like TVC or start your own small home church gathering?
        (Given that they continually seek out help as to not become a cult – not that big churches can’t become cults – but in the DFW there’s an abundance of resources: Dallas Theological Seminary, Redeemer Seminary, Criswell Seminary, Denton Bible Church, Countryside Bible Church, etc)

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  • Rick Owen

    Thank the Lord for Christ-centered teaching, preaching, counseling, worship, fellowship and service in any church of any size. I remember longing and praying many years ago for a greater number of Reformed churches, including ones with large congregations. I believe the Lord has answered this prayer!

    The bottom line to me is about DOING WHAT THE CHURCH SHOULD DO when it gathers. More thoughts here: “What Does It Mean To Gather As Christ’s Church?”

  • Jeff Baxter

    Good conversation for Pastor’s of all church sizes to hear. Thank you.

  • john sullivan

    you guys are all missing the BIGGEST problem with this video. ITS FAKE!

    watch the first 2 seconds. look to the left of the audience…i see KEVIN DEYOUNG – in the audience.

    and then suddenly he’s on stage.

    that audience is fake.

    • Jerry Nanson

      No, all of that is real, he was in the audience with a red golf shirt on and ran & jumped on the stage, simultaneously changing to a plaid shirt so his red shirt wouldn’t stand out, all while Mark Dever was introducing the topic, before the camera was trained on the stage. Faster than a speeding properity preacher, stronger than the power team, able to leap tall stages in a single bound: it’s super pastor!

    • Rick Owen

      Twin brother? Look-alike? Clone?

      Or perhaps just a clip of the audience from this event spliced into the video to give some context for the discussion.

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  • Diane

    “My question from this video as I’m not wanting to complain or criticize. Only solutions.
    My question is this, is it better to be a home group leader in a church like TVC or start your own small home church gathering?
    (Given that they continually seek out help as to not become a cult – not that big churches can’t become cults – …”

    Better? To be a member of TVC I see that Chandler shrinks the front door…asks, why would you want to be a member if you did not agree with our xyz…even concerning secondary issues…he wants people pretty much on board with that as well or you need not apply. That is what I heard him say. It sounded to me like his church is to be full of people who believe just like him and you are to conform… if you desire covenant member status.

    It would be a very different thing to start a home church–if you did not aspire to readily encourage, nearly insist, people believe exactly like you do on secondary issues.

    • paul cummings

      I thought that was interesting as well (concerning the secondary “issues” part). I wonder what those secondary issues might be?

  • BCody

    I think we have had centuries of the parish model to evaluate but the mega church model is very young in comparison. I wonder if a century from now we see more clearly one model triumphing over the other. Further, I wonder if the mega church helps keep the power hungry from feasting on the church simply by the intimidation of its size.

  • Tom

    I would love to see a panel or talk session about the Church with a more varied panel, maybe people outside of the Gospel Coalition. I feel like all the questions started out kind of tough but then ended up being congratulatory. I don’t think you can ask the really tough questions when you kind of all more or less agree on the same theological questions.

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