Church Size Theory

Arlin Rothauge’s Sizing Up a Congregation for New Member Ministry (New York, NY: The Episcopal Church Center, 1995) is the classic study on church size. Since its publication there have been some modifications as experiences of observed behavior have changed over the years. The current church size types are defined as follows:

The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) provides an excellent brief overview of church size theory that can be used by lay leaders or clergy to explain how church size effects the culture of a congregation: its norms and expectations, structure and governance. Church size theory is helpful when a congregation is experiencing a change in size and/or when it is in transition and looking for a new rector.

The ECF handout consists of the following:

  • A brief description of size types and their characteristics.
  • A series of scales intended to help you identify how church size relates to congregational focus, the role of the rector, the role of the vestry, decision making, change, and tone of conflict.
  • Discussion questions on how this applies or does not apply to your congregation.

The last point on discussion questions is important to note. While many aspects of church size hold true, the size theory are general observations. One size congregation can exhibit aspects of a different size congregation (even when not a Transitional size congregation). For example, a Family size congregation can function with aspects of a Pastoral size congregation; a Pastoral congregation can function with aspects of a Program size congregation; etc.. Functioning “outside” of a congregation’s actual size are not necessarily bad things. What we want to look for are areas where a congregation’s structure for ministry hinders its ability to effectively carry out mission and ministry (e.g. a Program size congregation that mostly operates as a Pastoral size congregation).

Overview of Church Size Theory

PDF of Presentation on Church Size Theory


Source: Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices “Overview of Church Size Theory”

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