I’m a little weary of reading that Dave Miller, on temporary hiatus from this place while he manages the 2017 SBC Pastor’s Conference, is a “small church” pastor. Ed Stetzer did an interview with him recently entitled, One on One with the Small Church Pastor Who “Took Over” the SBC Pastor’s Conference to Highlight Smaller Churches. It’s a great interview and I’m pleased to see Dave get a free lunch from Stetzer and a nice article on the Pastor’s Conference.
But my irascibility is showing here about the business of him being classified as a “small church” pastor. Nothing about him is “small” including the congregation that he currently pastors which was reported as averaging 223 over the past five years.
No church whose worship attendance averages over two hundred is a “small” SBC church.
I have some figures from LifeWay Research on average worship attendance by size categories. The figures are from the 2015 Annual Church Profile and are from those churches that reported. A little over two-thirds of the 46,793 churches the ACP gives as the total number of SBC churches are in this group. Here are some interesting facts from the ACP and some uses of “small.”
- Churches under 250 in weekly worship average attendance comprise 88.2% of all reporting churches.
- The average attendance for all reporting SBC churches is 145.
- The median church has 70 in attendance.
- The Pastor’s Conference sought speakers from churches under 500 in attendance, an arbitrary number it was explained. That would make 95.6% of SBC pastors eligible. There are under 1,500 SBC churches with 500+ in attendance.
- Many conferences promote small church events for those churches under 200 in attendance.
- The Alabama state convention has a finance conference for “small” churches, those with 100 or less in attendance.
- The Kansas-Nebraska Convention has a small church conference for churches under 150.
A church averaging 223 is larger than 90% of SBC churches. So, what exactly is a “small” church and what size makes a church “small”? It’s arbitrary and conferences and events aimed at small churches should know their target audience and set their definitions accordingly.
What is sometimes troublesome is when “small” is used to condescend, to qualitatively demean, or to render less legitimate or important (a charge I’m not making against Ed Stetzer, so relax). Seems to me that in our celebrity driven convention that most any church that is not a large church (500+, less than a thousand in the SBC), a mid-mega church(1,000-1,999; there were only 366 in 2014 according to Thom Rainer), or a megachurch (about 180) is not highly valued in certain respects. While this group of large churches makes up about 4% of SBC churches, it has an inordinate share of weekly worshipers, over 37%. Regardless, there’s no compelling reason that most SBC officers, leaders, and trustees should come from that group, although I don’t know that anyone has a figure for the proportion of trustees that come from megachurches or large churches. My sense is that it is greatly disproportionate.
Some questions about the strange world of “small” SBC churches, whatever your definition:
- Why do pastors of these churches often complain that SBC materials and events don’t seem to be aimed at them and their churches?
- Why do key SBC leadership groups seem disproportionately filled with large church people?
- Is there any reason that a pastor of a church under 200 in attendance cannot be elected SBC president?
- What size attendance would you label as being a “small” SBC church?
- Is it unfair to think that while Baptist associations are designed to serve small churches, state and national conventions are led by mostly large churches?
My first church was almost exactly the median, 70ish in attendance. Other churches I served were in the 100-200 range. I’m prejudiced, and opinionated. If this looks like a populist article, I suppose it is.
One final part to this harangue: Anyone who inserts the phrase “just a” in front of “small church” will not be my friend.
Note: LifeWay has a method of filling in for unreporting churches. I’m just using the figures from those churches that report. My guess would be that many more small churches do not report than larger churches so if you want to take issue with my numbers then there is likely a greater, not lesser proportion of SBC churches that are small.