Seven-Reasons-Why-Church-Worship-Centers-Will-Get-Smaller

A seismic shift is taking place in American church facilities, a shift that will become even more noticeable in the years to come. Church worship centers or sanctuaries will become smaller than they were the past 40 years. As church leaders decide to build, a large number of them will decide to build smaller than most of their predecessors have in previous years.

The trend for the past four decades has been to build increasingly larger worship centers. And while the large worship center will not disappear, you will notice more intentionality to build or buy smaller. Why? As I look at the church landscape in America, I see seven reasons, and only two of them are related to declining attendance. I will note those two first.

  1. Decreasing frequency of attendance among church members.  I noted this trend in a previous article. The informal definition of an “active” church member a decade ago was a member who attended worship services an average of three to four times a month. Now a member can be present only two times a month and be considered active. That trend is definitely adversely affecting attendance.
  2. The growth of the “nones.” I have written or spoken about this issue on a number of occasions. Pew Research found that the number of Americans who say that have no religious affiliation increased from 15 percent of the population to 20 percent from 2007 to 2012. This shift is huge. One out of five persons will likely never be in your church services, and they no longer feel a cultural compulsion to do so.
  3. The growth of the multi-site and multi-venue church. This movement is large and growing. Church leaders are strategically starting different sites and venues to bring the church to the population rather than expect the people to come to one worship center. Churches are more likely to have a few small worship centers or use one worship center on multiple days than to have one large worship center.
  4. The Millennials’ aversion to larger worship centers. I have seen this trend in my research of this generation born between 1980 and 2000. I have also experienced this sentiment personally with Millennial church leaders. On one occasion, I went on a tour of a large worship center with a Millennial. I came away greatly impressed with not only the size of the place, but its functionality as well. My Millennial friend remarked that he hopes he never has to build something that large. On another occasion, I went by a small worship center with little parking with a Millennial leader. I noted that only about 200 people could ever worship there. He countered that 2,000 could be at the worship center each week if it were strategically used throughout the week.
  5. Governmental agencies are increasingly unfriendly to church building plans. I have worked with a number of churches that have run into big roadblocks with zoning authorities that refuse to let them build or expand. Some of the zoning authorities fear increased traffic issues in residential areas. I suspect many of them are concerned about more property that will be exempt from property taxes.
  6. The shift in emphasis from the big worship event to an emphasis on groups. Worship services will not go away. Preaching will remain central. But an emphasis on worship services as the big event will not be as great. Church leaders are giving more of their energy to the development of healthy leaders and groups. As a side note, watch for an increased demand for small group pastors or discipleship pastors. As worship pastors were sought after the past 30 or 40 years, so will these other staff members for the years ahead.
  7. The desire to spend more on ministry and less on facilities. Church facilities have grown in proportion to expenses of churches over the past four decades. Church leaders are looking for more funds for ministry, and they will find those funds by reducing facility costs. The big worship center will not be built in many congregations, so they will have more funds to reach and minister to the community and beyond.

This trend toward smaller worship centers has already begun, and I only see it accelerating. An ancillary issue will be the challenge of churches to do something wise with existing worship centers that will continue to have higher percentages of vacant seating.

But that’s a matter for another article.

I would love to hear from you on this issue of smaller worship centers.

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Comments

  1. Ken Jerome says

    I agree with this! — I have preached in many worship centers that would hold 500 – 1000 with only 10% of that number in the pews! — That is discouraging for the congregation and for the minister.
    The big question is how can these large facilities be changed to fit the new congregations? -

    • Clay Hopkins says

      This is the issue we are facing. We have a sanctuary that seats 1200 for a church that runs about 350 in two different services. We are looking at ways to “shrink” the space with lighting, stage design, and maybe even pew re-configuration.

      • Fiona Hilkewich says

        Our church which seats about 1400 but can be “shrunk” by curtains, down to any size that we want. The curtains are hung on tall movable frames that completely block off sections of the church. They are black so they blend into the walls and make it feel more intimate. Especially if you have a small funeral or wedding happening.

  2. says

    Wow, great write up. My church is in the process of gearing up for a Giving Initiative in the 1st quarter which includes a permanent location for our church (we outgrew our first permanent facility and have been in a large high school for the last 2 years).

    Managing that tension as to build big enough to not outgrow it too quickly (potentially), with not overbuilding and running into the issues stated above. It’s a good problem to have but really challenging to stay on top of!

  3. Allen Calkins says

    If this trend continues it could be the greatest thing to happen to the church in the last 50 years! Giant facilities cost SO MUCH to build and maintain…and it is VERY HARD for giant churches with giant facilities to maintain themselves as an organization at that large level when the population around them is constantly shifting and ethnically changing so rapidly so many places.

  4. says

    Thom,
    This is super spot on! As we plant churches at Mars Hill we don’t see the need for more than 400 seats. Smaller rooms and , viabale service times are driving our future planting ideas.
    Planting inside urban areas is a killer these days with parking and CUP issues unless you go into an older church building with these in place.
    Appreciate your blog!

  5. says

    I’m glad you’re including #6! A return to the 1st century prioritization of small groups (i.e., “house to house”) will go a long way toward building healthier churches!

    mark

  6. Nicholas Gandy says

    As a millennial, I completely agree with your assessment. I served two small churches (125 active members) prior to moving away for seminary. Having come from a large home church (700 active members) with a large sanctuary, I quickly learned the benefit of a small church building. There is an intimacy created by the environment that is difficult to replicate in a large facility. Also, I found that more maintenance work was able to be done by church members when the building was smaller, versus a large church building. The benefit there is a cost savings to be put toward ministry.

    Thanks for your timely wisdom!

  7. Dave Treat says

    I agree with Mark Howell. More and more people are realizing that “sitting under the Word” (in large worship centers) is more about sitting than “Word.” We have taught people to death, and is has not produced robust, reproducing disciples. A new emphasis on application… studying the scripture in community with a commitment (and accountability) to obey will be the ancient-future.

    A second realization, that “worship” is not an event (or a segment of a larger event) also supports Thom’s point. Worship is incomplete until it results in action… a changed life (through obedience) and missional activity (from neighborhood to Nepal). This moves worship beyond the worship center, simultaneously elevating worship and devaluing the “Center.”

    Finally, people are realizing that “Come and See” should have never been about our buildings, programs, bands, and preachers. “Came and See” must be about our Lord, or we have missed the whole point.

    (Full disclosure: I was on staff at Willow Creek for 9 years, and I know a little about large worship centers. And “Reveal.” Which is why I am a small groups/missional communities pastor.)

  8. says

    Conflicted. While I agree with the concept and have led my current church to invest in ministry over facilities, I am conflicted. According to all I read, churches are supposed to grow at astronomical rates (said w tongue in cheek), though my rural church continues to be the ‘before’ picture of a growing church as opposed to the ‘after’ picture.
    Multi-site is a long range dream of mine, but the technology to make it happen in rural communities is still beyond our grasp. So,the conflict is really about a paradigm shift- as you noted from large group to small group. Unfortunately my education and experience have left me unprepared for small group ministry (MDiv in 87; and DMin in 09). Thanks for making me think!

    • Luke says

      Mr. Schenewerk, if you feel unequipped for small group ministry, some excellent resources include “Building a Church of Small Groups” by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, “The Church and The Crisis of Community,” by Latini, and “Using the Bible in Groups,” by Roberta Hestenes.

    • Chris Francis says

      Steve,

      Our church is a rural church doing very effective multi-site ministry in a very rural area. Would love to share with you how we overcame the technology issues and our successes and cautions.

  9. says

    Dr. R,
    I agree with the analysis and would like to add some things.

    1. Most “Big Box Churches” are a mile wide and an inch deep to speak to the shallow youth and new believers or unbelievers. Seasoned Believers want more depth.
    2. The internet allows Christians to pick and choose the preacher/teachers. Some of my Seasoned Believer friends tape a teacher and watch it in their small group. Few Preachers can compete with Charles Stanley, Joel, Osteen, Rick, Warren, etc.
    3. Big Box Churches generally want passive members who obey the preacher.
    4. God moves more easily and deeply in small groups in work and community settings. I mentor four young business owners who want to apply their faith to business and industry.

    I am sure there are more reasons.

    Good start Dr. R.

    • Jeff says

      I’m curious as to what research has certified your facts. To say that “most big box churches” are shallow is a fairly destructive accusation, but one which any brother in Christ would certainly never make without proof.

      I believe there are some churches that enable their large size by avoiding the hard truths. But, I can’t find accurate research that says “most” of them are growing using this method. Of the 20 or 25 leaders from such churches that I’ve been privileged to glean from, I have learned a great deal of spiritual depth, which appears to be the reason God continues to bless them in reaching the lost. However, 20 or 25 is not enough to prove accurate research, so I can’t make broad, generalizing statements.

  10. says

    Speaking as the planter of a small church, the thing I like about the multi-site approach is the flexibility. Instead of trying to fit the mission to the facility, we can fit the facility to the mission. Fortunately in my community we have a wide variety of venues to choose from. I also think that while in place worship will always be vital, the definition of “church” is changing dramatically. Our blog reaches over 100 countries per year, and more people each week than our worship services. In this respect I could say our church has attendees from all over the world. The smart phone revolution is already having a growing impact on how people interact with churches and other ministries. Jesus went to where the people were. In today’s world that means very different ministry tools and strategies than 40 or 100 years ago.

    • JOTS says

      Spot on Rev. Crutchfield. I am on a leadership team with
      Celebrate Recovery through Genesis Church in Phx.,AZ We (as a body
      of Christ) strive to impress that actions are better than words so
      our gospel is “Teach,Reach,Unleash ,which I am committed to doing
      through my actions in my active community.

  11. Jonathan Chapman says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I will be joining the staff of a church in the near future and the church has (rightfully) voted to relocate across town. As it is in the beginning stages, we as a staff (alongside the committee) will design the blueprints for the new location. This includes worship center, youth area, education space, and recreation areas. While we will prayerfully labor over the designs according to God’s will for this congregation along with the vision and mission of the church, what advice do you have as we embark on this process? What advice do you have for church staff as we are in this transition process? Any pitfalls or past trials on things to avoid or aim toward? Thanks for your help and leadership!

  12. Tom Park says

    This blog and the responding comments are an encouragement and an answer to prayer. We’re just not getting it done with the “big box” model.

  13. ralph juthman says

    I agree. I would also add that these faciltities will be multifunctional so as to allow use by community groups as well as church ministries better serving the community.

  14. says

    I am not a fan of the term “worship center.” It implies that worship only happens in that spot, and that it doesn’t happen in the nurseries, the youth room, the fellowship hall, the parking lot – and off campus in small groups, meetings in coffee shops, etc. What’s wrong with the word auditorium, or even sanctuary?

    And I think noting that will help this discussion. A “worship center” is almost always the name given to a large auditorium with a production booth that could fit the entire congregation of the average American church. Let’s return to having sanctuaries, appropriately-sized places where the local body gathers to pause from “business as usual,” offer their praise to God, proclaim the gospel to each other, and hear from God through their pastor.

    On a practical note, I think 650 is about the maximum number of seats a church’s auditorium should have, with something under 500 even more practical. You can always rent the local high school auditorium if you need a bigger space for, e.g., Easter.

  15. Mark says

    Suggestion, share a building with another church. Or have a multiple-use facility where the classrooms used for Sunday school become the classroom the school uses during the week. The sanctuary could be where school assemblies take place, chapel, etc. If a facility that costs a large %age of the annual budget just to keep up! then you have a problem. Also you can design in expansion plans to a building. A one story building can be constructed where additional floors can be added. You just have to design it in to the plans.

  16. Andrea Hughes says

    Dr. R,
    I appreciate your comments here. I have served in large (500-700 members) and small (50-60 members) churches. I dearly love my small church. We have encouraged churches not to build until they cannot use their smaller space any longer because it is used all the time! This works well, except I have heard many parishoners complain that once multiple worship services begin, then you basically wind up with multiple congregations in one building. If they have started small they buck at not being able to know all of their other church members. I have yet to find an answer for these dear ones that is really satisfactory. Holding whole church events periodically just isn’t the same as worshipping together on a regular basis.
    Thoughts? I see the possibility of these discussions coming soon in my current church too.

    Blessings,
    Andrea

    • Mark says

      If you need to put everyone together once in a while, rent a school gym or some rooms in a convention center or have the event in the parking lot.

  17. Church: Different says

    It’s good to see the growing awareness that ‘what has been done’ is no longer as effective as perhaps it once was.

    Dave T writes, “I agree with Mark Howell. More and more people are realizing that “sitting under the Word” (in large worship centers) is more about sitting than “Word.” We have taught people to death, and is has not produced robust, reproducing disciples.”

    Tom P writes, “We’re just not getting it done with the “big box” model.”

    I would add to Tomp P’s comment, “Nor with the ‘small box’ model” The record is dismal. But God is still at work in His way and His time. Making disciples means walking alongside and with others in our daily lives. Teaching and singing and taking time to remember and reflect have their place, but they’ve crowded out the part where we share our lives together ‘along the way’. The more that we do that, I believe the greater will be our impact in the world. It seems so terribly inefficient, but then, God’s ways are always different from our ways.

  18. Greg Corbin says

    Dr. Rainer, as usual, this is an excellent analysis of this trend. I would add a couple of observations to the discussion in addition to those you mentioned. First, in addition to being good stewardship by using the same facilities multiple times in a week, multiple services allows churches to reach different segments of people in the different hours. People today are accustomed to choices and availability when they are available. Many churches want to offer multiple services to capitalize on this trend. That is difficult to do when the church has a huge worship center. Finally, what we are really talking about here is a seismic shift in ministry philosophy that is reflected in ministry buildings. Thank you for all that you do!

  19. Jack Underwood says

    I am glad that this trend is growing, Thom. The reasons behind this right sizing are valid, too. If (or when) the state and city governments dissolve the property tax exemptions that our local assemblies currently enjoy, the tax burden for these mega facilities will create a massive financial crisis for many of these churches. Keep up the good work.

  20. says

    For the past few years, we have seen churches consistently looking for 300 to 500 chairs versus much larger projects in the past. I would definitely echo that trend that is identified here.

  21. says

    Thom,

    Great post, Thom. My wife and I had a conversation about this very topic just two days ago. We are noticing an increasing number of “disenfranchised christians” who have grown weary of the worship wars, the church politics, the seemingly constant call to give more money just to keep the church doors open, and the expansion of programs that end up only serving church members. They are looking for more. They want to see the Gospel at work in their lives and in the lives of those around them. They want to connect with other believers in community while serving their community. With all of the demands of keeping a large church complex (facility and programs) running they don’t have time or opportunity to do either. I expect that the total number of church buildings (and not just the size of those buildings) will decline even while we plant more churches than at any other time in history.

  22. Logan Newton says

    I appreciate the perspectives in this post. I think these points are especially important to consider as many churches fall in and out of “popular” favor due to changes in leadership or changes in the surrounding demographics. As a member of the “property and grounds” committee of a church that was once much larger than it currently is (and is undergoing an exciting season of renewal), maintenance of such a large building is quite difficult and EXPENSIVE. From leaky roofs, to security, to aging HVAC units, two full time maintenance staff (for whom I am very grateful) are being pushed to their limits. Despite being in a fairly wealthy area of town, there have been multiple instances of finding individuals who had taken up residence in different corners of the building, leading to issues of safety and increased liability. Needless to say, issues of building maintenance have been somewhat of a deterrent (if nothing else, a distraction) to the renewal of our congregation.

    What this shows is that in an age where we hear the “sustainability” buzzword, particularly in my vocational realm of architecture, this issue of sustainability does not just apply to CO2 emissions and energy usage. It is a concept that is hard wired into a Church that has lasted two millenia and will continue to be a living, breathing organism until Christ returns. Let us be cognizant of the sustainability of our literal and figurative church structure looking towards generations to come.

  23. Jerry says

    I agreed about smaller church but for a very different and practical reason. Churches exceeding 750 results in dimissing return. It takes more ministers and staff to properly administer large churches. The larger the church and large the administrative staff. Generaly it only takes two pastors and two administrative staffer to handle a church of 750. After that, an additional minister and staff would be needed for every additional 200 members added. I believe churches should start planning for planting churches once they hit 500. Then by the time they’ve growen to 700, then can properly send out 150 to 200 members to the new church plant properly trained to support, serve and grow that new church plant. Growing a larger church doesn’t make for a better church. After all, the Great Commission did say to go and make disciples. “Go” meaning to go forth. Growing a mega church is not the same thing although some will argue that it is. We can all be content to just stay and grow the church, but I believe the intent was for Christians to go out of our comfort zone and actually be missionaries, even if it means planting a church in the next community. If Paul was content to grow the first church in Rome into a mega church, then we all would be attending service in Rome.

    • Martin says

      This is a great reply. What ever happened to taking your resources and planting a church where the need is? Why do mega churches have to be multi-site? Wouldn’t a church planted in a community where it is needed be better than a carbon copy of the “mother church”?

  24. says

    I would love for you to talk to Mr. Roe Messner. He has designed/built more churches than anyone in America…1,794 in 49 states….he has seen it all! Only state we have not designed or built in is Rhode Island. He has witnessed many church trends!

    Thank you for the article!

    Beth

  25. says

    I am delighted to hear of this trend. It is so easy to get lost or overlooked in the churches mentioned in the article. Cosequently, the opportunity to become disconnected from the local body of Christ while being in that body greatly increases. I am a former member of a 10,000 member multi-site church. I was at the first meeting where there were approximately 40 or so in attendance. It’s size, in facility and attendance, became to big for me. I am now in a church where the pastor is available to speak with his congregants after each service. I find this refreshing.

  26. says

    I am delighted to hear of this trend. It is so easy to get lost or overlooked in the churches mentioned in the article. Cosequently, the opportunity to become disconnected from the local body of Christ while being in that body greatly increases. I am a former member of a 10,000 member multi-site church. I was at the first meeting where there were approximately 40 or so in attendance. It’s size, in facility and attendance, became to big for me. I am now in a church where the pastor is available to speak with his congregants after each service. I find this refreshing.

    I

  27. Harold Bowlby says

    It used to be that you had to expand your facilities or go to two services when your worship center became full. I hope that trend does not continue. When the sanctuary becomes filled, it is time for about ten of those couples or more to be commissioned to start another congregation or to assist a struggling small congregation. In my estimation a Church can become too large to meet the needs of all its constituents.

  28. Ron Lambright says

    If your prediction is correct there will be plenty of “celebrity pastors” and “celebrity staff members” who will decry the demise of the church. However, a lot of spectator “members” will get the chance to step up and serve. There are plenty of large churches that are still growing and that is good. However, when a small or medium sized church grows to near the maximum feasible usage of it’s facility, a good option might be to continue to grow by adding another campus rather than a larger facility. The “celebrity pastor” isn’t the only one who can lead or preach. The “celebrity staff member” isn’t the only one who can sing or teach. They can train and lead leaders who in turn can serve more members and nonmembers. Churches with smaller facilities might also find themselves spending less on “celebrity pastor” salaries as well, but that would be another article. Thom, would you like to address that one?

  29. says

    Just some observations that I have made. (Great article by the way)

    1. Older members are overly critical thus driving younger members away.- I have had older members critique some of the most bizarre things. “Jeans should never be in a church.” “You don’t look at me enough” “Women and pants don’t belong in the same sentence when it comes to church.” Etc.

    2. Too much inreach and no outreach.- While discipleship and spiritual growth are very important and should be administered within the church, a lot of churches (not all, but a good portion) don’t strive to reach outside its own walls, a marquee will not bring people in. Sitting inside and praying (while praying is good) will not bring them in. We have been commanded to GO and preach the gospel. We even sing about it “Bring them in, Bring them in, bring the wandering ones to Jesus…”

    3. Fear of change- A lot of churches are stuck in the 70s and 80s, and are fearful to try new approaches. The ONE thing that should never change is the Word of God. There are churches who are fearful to even bring in screens, instruments, and preachers who aren’t from certain states.

    4. Judgmental stares- Single mothers, tattoos, divorced couples, different nationality/ethnic group, piercings. If a Christian cringes at any of these thoughts, these people will never be reached.

    These are just a few of my thoughts/observations, thanks again fro a great article.

  30. Clayton Slagle says

    Great article! For me, it becomes a matter of growing *the* church, not *a* particular church. In structuring a church start, we decide on a metric that will cause us to begin meeting in two separate locations. For example, once we have averaged 200 in attendance for 12 out of 15 Sundays, we will begin a previously agreed-upon process of looking for a new location, and deciding which half will go to the new location and which will stay. Half of the existing staff will go with the new location; half will stay. We have already decided upon a timeline for when the move should take place and we all work toward that. It colors how we present ourselves to prospective members and how we engage with vocational staff members.
    This size facilitates the development of the community of believers, and those relationships provide far more fertile ground for discipleship and all the activities we know must take place within the confines of the local church. I think we’ll see even church discipline to be more effective and more redemptive than punitive in such an environment, where the elders and the laity truly know each other.
    Debbie Hughett above states that she likes that her pastor can speak with the congregants after a service; I think the church needs a dynamic where the pastor can drop by for a cup of coffee. Congregations this size wil not be able to present the program offerings of the mega-church, but, in my opinion, it just costs too much to grow to the size where you can.

  31. John Boyachek says

    I do appreciate the insights in your article. As a pastor contemplating a new building project, one main question comes to mind. What is big 150, 300, 500, 1000+ people? In Canada where I live, a building is much needed for eight months of the year and sometimes a new building is much more efficient for ministry and better for energy consumption compared to old buildings with small rooms and poor construction. We need to house the church in a building, and at times the building limits growth no matter how creative you become.

  32. Bill Howe says

    A little over two years ago I was called to a church that sat 700. 29 people voted me in. Since then we have grown to an average of 130. Here’s the God part. This year we switched properties with a church near us that ran 400 whose auditorium sat 200. We picked up a property debt free, renovated it, and was left with $1.3 m From the sale of our larger facility. They did the same and are comfortably running 500. We LOVE our smaller space and have plans to go to multiple services that will enable us to go to 500 and never move again.

  33. Tim Price says

    I’m sure this is encouraging news and give hope to smaller churches. These thoughts might help retool the mission to reach more people in a smaller space.

  34. Matt says

    Is this a statistical observation? Our church is in western PA, close to Pittsburgh, and anecdotally we are not experiencing this trend. At least among college students/young married who worship with us or in other area churches. We see them drawn to larger crowds larger services even in churches with smaller venue and multisite options. Maybe we’re just behind the times on this.

    • Jeff says

      Agreed. It would also be interesting to see the diversity in the statistics between churches located within an hour of major cities, versus churches outside that radius. I’ve lived in the areas surrounding Atlanta, GA, Huntsville, AL, Savannah, GA, Greensboro, NC, and Kansas City, MO. With each cities increase in size, the churches in those locations seem to experience less concern about church building size, particularly among the 18 to 35 year old demographic.

      I wonder if this discussion is less about building sizes and more about how leaders and disciples in this decade both teach AND represent Jesus’ one reason for coming to earth: to seek and to save the lost? Then again, I don’t know if that will sell a new “church-trend” book very well.

  35. Mike says

    I am intrigued by this post – as a Canadian our scale of size is much smaller than the US – however we do have some mega-churches which have reasonable success. My one question is this: there is a need for some clear systems and strategy in order to effectively run multiple services in one facility. Most Pastors don’t have the time or training in systems and processes to manage this effectively. Is this conversation ethereal or practical in nature? The complexity of volunteer management and ministry strategy is increasingly complex in a church with multiple services. We have two services and are hopefully adding a third in 2014 – the logistics and planning process is huge – and that doesn’t include the challenges of staff transition and hiring!

  36. says

    Thom,

    You are right on in this article. Our church currently meets in a school that holds 800, with an attendance on high days of 200. Our church just turned 5 and we are moving into a permanent facility. As we researched what kind of a building to look for, we looked for one a lot smaller. We are moving into a 150 seat sanctuary and going to 2 services. This reduces costs, adds to the worship atmosphere, and actually increases serving. Our people can all have the option to attend a worship experience and never miss a Sunday. In our building search, we received advice from people to “go smaller, give options” and when you add 2-3 more services, create another campus. That goes to point #3.

  37. Anthony Coppedge says

    I believe there’s an 8th reason: online campuses. In my
    research, there are (to my best ability to find them) currently as
    of December 2013 about 140 churches that have created staffed
    online campuses. I define an online campus as having an online
    campus pastor, two-way real time feedback (chat, usually) and
    pre-defined online service broadcast times (for staffing purposes).
    This is not the same as streaming services, which thousands of
    churches do without creating an online campus. The growth of the
    online campus has some interesting commonalities: between 20% to
    40% of the attendees are regular (log in for at least three
    consecutive weeks), depending upon the church; most online church
    volunteers come from the audience/attendee from participating
    online and want to serve; many of the campus pastors have been
    campus pastors at physical sites prior to being the online campus
    pastor. Certainly the Millennial’s fit into the grouping of
    attendees of online campuses due to both their high use of
    technology and their position of seeing the church as
    anytime/anywhere rather than being associated with a
    building/campus. However, it’s not just the young who are attending
    these campuses, as the “Nones” are also finding these opportunities
    as being safe way to test the waters without feeling like they have
    to conform to a certain style or dress code at a physical campus.
    That’s why I think you’ll see this as the 8th reason why church
    worship centers will get smaller.

  38. says

    Thom,
    I read one of your books in seminary at Beeson Divinity School and have enjoyed your work ever since. Perimeter Church in Atlanta GA has been involved in helping churches with life on life missional discipleship and I have noticed the truth of your point #6 as more churches are seeking Pastors of Discipleship. Seems like small groups have helped but many pastors are looking for something which has a better track record for developing leaders. With the temptation of “if we build it they will come”, it is important to see that Jesus had a different approach “Think Big, Start Small, Go Deep”. Have a big vision of what you are trusting God to do. Start investing in a few faithful men/women. Intentionally equip those few in their vision, character, knowledge and skills. Thanks for you work and this article Thom!

  39. Sam Fitts says

    Thom, I do agree with your article, and I read most of the responses. I have watched through the years I have noticed that change comes even when change is not sought. There was a time when you advocated that the worship service was door to the Church (Beeson Divinity School). I believe that your thoughts on that has changed somewhat. Many times I ask the Church, “If the Apostle Paul were alive today would he walk across Europe and start new churches? Of course the answer is no. He would tell Dr. Luke to book a fight to Corinth with a stopover in Ephesus. The point is the methods change with time, but the message will never change. It is Salvation though Christ plus nothing! I believe that it will be a good thing for churches to scale down. I have found that people today are hungry for the Word of God. They are not getting that in worship. They do hear a sermon and many times it is a good exposition of the Word. People need have questions explained to them so they understand what God has for them. (Sundy School) People have forgotten that the only one to to receive in a worship service is God. It is not about us; it is all about the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY. What can we to do to show people this? I pray that God blesses you, and that you continue to do surveys and bring the information to the Church.
    In Christ,
    Sam

  40. says

    Thanks for this… We are trying to think well about our current growth, finances, and also the generations we will pass the facilities on to…
    Keep these coming, they benefit is many of us in so many ways.

  41. says

    A self examining question for churches and other organizations:

    Is our church/organization doing missions for the purposes of building reciprocal, kingdom-building relationships across cultures, or are we simply using these opportunities as ways to foster our own growth?

    In beginning to answer this question with integrity, just look at your overall budget. What % of the sum total of your resources goes to mission?

    In doing a cursory investigation of Churches in the USA, based on Non-Profit reporting, the average church spends $1 – $2 dollars per $100 for mission. This is not something that needs to be shifted over time. This is something that needs to be repented of. Let’s not wait for the trend to determine our ecclesiastical actions. Downsize, streamline, and optimize now before it becomes the hip thing to do.

  42. says

    What does this theory look like in areas such as the North West that have weather conditions. I hypothesize that there are areas which have more snow, rain and or colder temperatures needing facilities to for their faith assemblies to gather in a central area.

    Has there been any special consideration or focus of this information being true for those areas?

  43. Steve Stewart says

    Wow. There have been some good comments, but also harsh judgements and characterizations, such asa – “mile wide and an inch deep” , “large churches must compromise on preaching the truth” and large churches give $1 for missions for. Every $100 in offerings. Strong accusations .
    Why not assume that a sister church may be earnestly following the Holy Spirit as best as they can in differing circumstances and areas?

  44. JD Davis says

    The terminology of smaller worship centers and larger ones seems ambiguous to me. Is there a numerical guide to what constitutes a smaller worship centers seat as opposed to larger ones?

  45. Randy Chestnut says

    Great article, Thom! Along with these trends, I believe we will see more older buildings be renovated, especially in the urban core, as we are getting serious about church planting in the inner city. Along with this, we will see more congregations sharing facilities, meeting at alternate times. This is what we are presently doing at Hope Community. Our church plant meets for worship on Sunday nights at Calvary Baptist, who has just a morning service on Sundays.

  46. Dennis Jordan says

    Thank you for this post on this important issue. I am curious on your thoughts on the physical and mental impacts on pastors as it relates to smaller worship environments.. Also how will congregations provide appropriate financial support to the staff of the Church.

  47. says

    Thom, I was told a few years ago (from the church architect department of LIfeway) that if you worship in a gym more than a few years, it can limit growth. I know there are many variables to growth and that churches can continue to grow in gyms, but is there any factual data that addresses this? Any articles on this? I am in the midst of a baby boomer demographic.

    Thanks for any info!

  48. brian says

    I would like to sum up a number of points and make some observations. (1) Why do we act like our church is The Church. Almost everyone is acting so myopic and exclusive in their comments; is it not God who is building the Church, are not we the Church? (2) Come on, they are not forts for each congregation…One building should be shared by many, many small groups for larger worship times during the month. (3) Seminaries should stop training Pastor CEOs and the Body should reject this current practice, yesterday. (4) God has raised-up 1,000′s upon 1,000′s of elders to truly have the heart of God. (5) Listen to the Prophets…please.

  49. Rev. Laureta Blondin says

    Our small town Anglican church building in Western Canada burned to the ground last summer. I’m not weeping, the building is gone but our church (the people) are alive and well. But, while many of my congregants (mostly seniors) would likely not agree with me, I’m not of a mind to simply re-build the same structure that we cannot affort to heat and maintain. I would be interested to hear what kind of missional partnerships people would suggest we look at exploring. I’m thinking that perhaps we can build a building that houses a small chapel for our services but the majority of the building is designed and built for another community purpose. Thoughts? Ideas?

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