Monday, March 24, 2014

150 meaningful connections

Maybe some of you saw this as it made the rounds on Facebook and Upworthy last week. This is something that has been on my mind for a number of years regarding the optimal size of a congregation or meeting. It always makes me feel good about the fact that no one ever accused Friends meetings of being mega-churches!

At the same time, in my own yearly meeting, I've noticed that we struggle with what to do when we get to be around 150-200 members/attendees strong. Do we divide into two groups and build another meetinghouse? Do we have more than one service in the same building with the same pastors? Do we just try to adjust our organizational structure to administrate a larger group? Here is a website that explains the various congregation sizes and styles from a book by Roy M. Oswald that I read awhile back, the name of which I can't remember or find.

At any rate, the point is that at the point where there are more than 150 people who are actively involved, it becomes difficult to know everyone, and the feel of the congregation changes. So what do you do then? People are attracted to the congregation because of its "personality," the culture of that group when it's together. They're attracted to the sense of community and the strong connections people seem to share. But once it gets big, those things are lost.

In our current cultural context, we seem to think that more is always better. In a congregation, why do we want "more"? I suppose it's so that more people can be reached with the message we're sharing, so that more people don't have to experience the loneliness this video addresses, so that more can be drawn into truly life-giving community.

What scares us so much about dividing into smaller groups when we get too large, then?

Well, one thing is financial. 150 people can barely support a pastor and a meetinghouse in today's economy with the expense of benefits and so forth. It sounds nice to grow bigger so we can have more incomes to support our pastoral team. But once we hit 150 people, we need a different kind of pastor and a different form of ministry. So it's kind of a catch 22.

My own leaning is toward keeping our meetings at or around 150, and splitting in two when there are too many people coming. Perhaps we share a building for a while and meet at different times and hire different ministers. Perhaps we find a new location closer to a group from the existing congregation.

Suffice it to say that have a meeting that is TOO big is a nice problem to have! At the same time, it's so easy to give into the false sense of pride and energy that comes from having hundreds of "friends" but not really knowing anyone.

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