The congregation where I serve is currently in a time of transition. Our “lead pastor” has taken a new call, which is moving us into a period of self-study. One of the interesting parts of this process is to attempt to define our congregational identity. We have a team that is working on our Purpose Statement – an outgrowth of a congregational retreat held earlier this year. That statement will go a long way in helping us to define what God is calling us to do and be.
Another fascinating tool in this process is to determine the size-based category that our church belongs to. I like this because it allows churches to examine ministry styles and structures in other churches in their category. The four groupings are:
- Family Church – fewer than 50 active members
- Pastoral Church – between 50-150 active members
- Program Church – between 150-350 active members
- Corporate Church – more than 350 active members
(Here’s an interesting article on how to do ministry in each of these groups.)
Several weeks ago a ministry specialist spoke at our Adult Forum and offered the names and characteristics of each of the four groups. He did not mention the numbers that pertained to each group, just a description of how those churches function. Then he asked our people to identify which group they thought our church fell into. An overwhelming number indicated we were a Pastoral Church. Imagine their surprise when the specialist indicated that this “humble little church in Windsor Heights” is actually a Corporate Church…and one of the largest ELCA congregations in the state of Iowa.
Here are the numbers:
|Hope||West Des Moines||4,948||7,377||4,865|
|Zion United||Clear Lake||767||1,754||1,451|
|St. John||Des Moines||559||2,467||1,944|
|St. John||Cedar Falls||425||2,194||1,336|
|St. Olaf||Fort Dodge||398||1,465||1,111|
|St. John||Council Bluffs||327||1,748||1,155|
I found all of this information by using the “Find A Congregation” tool on the ELCA website. It provides a complete congregational profile for all the churches in the denomination. The above figures are listed in according to the average number of people who attended worship each weekend in 2007. I consider the worship attendance number to be the most accurate description of a faith community’s size. Additionally, in going through our congregational directory, I found about 450 people that I consider to be “active” (attend worship at least twice a month and are involved in at least one other activity in the life of the congregation). This means that we are firmly entrenched in the Corporate Church category…two sizes bigger than many in our congregation consider us to be.
Furthermore, ELCA churches with over 350 people in worship each weekend are among the 97th percentile in terms of church size. That means only 3% of the congregations in the ELCA are larger than we are. Hmmm…
It will be fun to walk through this transition time with the people of our church. Obviously there are many factors besides “worship attendance” that define a church…but it is, at this point, one of the largest incongruities in how we perceive ourselves. Perhaps our biggest challenge will not be finding a new pastor, but in establishing and defining our congregational identity.
What about your church? How do you define your congregational identity? Are your expectations in line with reality or perception? Who defines your church’s vision and purpose? How is that realized?