We’re looking at how church size influences volunteers and volunteer coordination. If you want to learn about the characteristics of a small church, there are quite a few good books about small churches, with more coming out periodically. We will review some of them, so come back and check our Reviews page. For this post, we will look at a few basics and a bit of what that means for volunteers.
How big is a small church?
When I did my doctoral research, I defined a “small” church as one averaging 100 or fewer in worship each week. Some experts would go as low as 50 and some as high as 150. An argument can be made for either one, but a better argument can be made for looking more at the organizational structure than at simple numbers.
Small churches are often said to be like a family in their organizational structure. Be careful, though, that you don’t assume that the pastor is the “father” of this “family.” The comparison with a family simply means that the church is organized on the basis of relationships. The congregation is small enough for people to know each other, at least on some level.
Think about a family reunion. All of those people are related to you in some way, even if you are a little fuzzy on what it is.
How big can the extended family grow before you have trouble remembering which toddlers belong to which of your cousins? At some point, the people you see at the far picnic table don’t feel like “family” anymore.
How does this impact the volunteers?
There are some obvious implications for volunteers in a small church. For example, due to numbers alone, small churches don’t have as many programs. As a result, volunteers have fewer choices of programs in which they can serve.
On the flip side, if there is an unmet need in the church, a volunteer may have more opportunity to start a program to meet that need and to serve in a leadership position. (And down the road, they may have a higher risk of burnout because they tried to meet the need without enough manpower, training or resources.)
But what about the not-so-obvious implications? How do the relational aspect and other unique characteristics of the small church impact volunteers? In Part 2 on Small Churches, we will look at the less obvious ways in which the characteristics of a small church influence its volunteers.