Wednesday, October 02, 2013

8 Reasons Most Quaker Congregations SHOULD Never Break the 100 Attendance Mark

Empty or Full??
Okay. I'm writing this in response to a re-post by my friend (and Friend) Adrian Halverstadt.  This morning on Facebook he posted "8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark" by Corey Nieuwhof.  Since I'm a sucker for that sort of stuff ("10 Ways to Play Bogey Golf", "9 Tips on How Not To Turn a Tractor Over", "8 Sure Fire, No Fail ....") and am interested in churches, I read it.    His reasons are not bad --
  1.  The pastor is the primary caregiver. 
  2.  The leaders lacks a strategy. 
  3.  True leaders aren’t leading. 
  4.  Volunteers are unempowered. 
  5.  The governance team micromanages. 
  6.  Too many meetings. 
  7.  Too many events and programs that lead nowhere. 
  8.  The pastor suffers from a deire to please everybody. 
Some of these you might even feel helpful.  If so, you'll want to check out his blog post and see his reasoning why these eight things keep churches from breaking the 200 attendance mark. Maybe they'll help you on your way to meeting that goal. 

But these eight -- helpful as they might be -- gave me pause.  Not the eight items so much as the stated goal.  Breaking the 200 attendance mark.  Is that a worthy goal?  I don't think so -- especially for Quaker congregations.  And so I offer my 8 reasons most Quaker groups shouldn't even break the 100 attendance mark.

  1. Spiritual Intimacy -- I've been in some glorious and large meetings for worship.  One at FGC Gathering this summer comes to mind.  But for the most part, my experience of truly deep, gathered worship has occurred in groups of less than 100.  Sitting close, seeing and knowing everyone there -- their joys, sorrows, concerns, hopes -- seems to lend itself to an increased spiritual intimacy.  Both with each other and the Great Lover of our Souls.
  2. Listening Together -- since we gather to listen to God together -- and maybe even be given a message to share to those gathered, the dynamics of listening well together seem to me to be closely related to the number gathered.  There are enough of us afflicted with monkey-mind and thoughts scattering around that the power of those who are truly centered and communing with the Living Christ is more easily defused the greater the number of people who come together.  The power of those gathered wafts over and around a smaller group, drawing it together more easily than a larger one.
  3. Community -- how many people can we really know?  I mean really?  I am blessed with a bazillion Facebook friends, but I am not in deep spiritual community (or any other type of deep community) with them.  I attended a mega-church once with some family members who attended there.  They were greeted with, "Are you new here?"  That was after a couple of years of attending.  Perhaps a goodly number of the congregants there feel connected with and in community with each other.  But I fear not.  Smaller congregations can engender a deeper sense of spiritual community precisely because they can both know each other and be known by each other.  
  4. Trust -- when we know each other, especially each others' spiritual and life stories, then that intimacy and community builds trust.  We trust the others' motives and reasons for doing things -- even things we disagree with them on.  We cut each other a bit more slack.  We learn to live in love, not fear.
  5. Working Together -- all of us.  When we're smallish, we all chip in to do the work that God has called us all to do.  For example, when my meeting -- West Newton Friends -- decided to do Quaker Quest in 2012, we did it together.  Everyone.  Some were presenters, some were hosts, some made food, some did childcare, some prayed for the efforts.  It was a whole group effort -- one that would be difficult to achieve in a congregation of 200.  Since we were all involved, we all felt ownership, to some degree, of the program and its outcome. 
  6. Work That Needs to be Done -- smaller groups, when they are alive, not dying and form-driven, have the chance to do only the work that needs to be done.  So what that "Faith and Practice" says that we need X number of committees with X number of people on them serving X number of years?  No way.  There's not enough of us to do that without all of us serving on 27 committees.  Instead we do the work that we feel God is calling us to do.  Sunday school teachers teach because they feel led -- not because a nominating committee asked them.  Same with other programs or projects we undertake.  We look at what God is calling us to do with the people we have and the space we have at this time.  We do what we're called to do -- and nothing else.  I heard recently of a Quaker meeting that only had two committees -- Us and Them.  Us is pastoral care, worship, etc.  Them is outreach, missions work, etc.  Hmmm... what a concept.
  7. Growing Deep Together -- our adult Sunday school consists of all adults in the meeting.  Where that limits the offering of electives, it does keep us together spiritually.  We study together, talk together, pray together, and learn together.  And good work comes out of it -- as when we all studied (even the kids!) the causes and possible solutions to hunger issues.  As class ended one Sunday we decided -- together -- that next spring we would offer a community garden on our property as a faithful way to respond to hunger in our own township.  There was little discussion because we all had been studying this issue together and realized that we needed to do a witness together.
  8. Missional -- being small gives us a chance to think missionally.  There's nothing wrong with numerical growth.  I hope our meeting grows in numbers as well as in spiritual depth as we are doing now.  But I also hope that as we do, instead of worrying where we'll fit the hordes who will join, that we will say our building and our faith community can be accommodate 75 people.  When #76 begins attending, we should look at spinning off a new group and empowering them to to be God's Friends in a new place. 

No.  I don't believe there is any virtue in being small.  And if we are not growing numerically, as well as spiritually, then we are not being faithful to the Good News which has been entrusted to us and which has made such a difference in our lives.  But I, even after being raised a good (well, I wasn't very good at being good) Evangelical Friend who studied the Bible diligently, do not recall one time where Jesus is recorded in the Gospels as saying, "Wherever 200 or 300 are gathered, I am with them."

Just sayin'.

-- Brent


Karl Vaters said...

Well said, Brent. I'm not Quaker, so I'll leave it up to you and yours as to whether your congregations should ever get above 100, but I support Small Churches for all the reasons you mentioned and more. I also support big churches, but like I said I'm not a Quaker.

Unknown said...

The meeting I'm currently in has folks from West Newtown... Including the younger set, our attendance is about 35... and we have smaller groups of 2-3 that gather for prayer each week, I'm off to midweek meeting.. and there will again be 2-3 of us.

Bill Samuel said...

Well said, and much of what you said applies much broader than just to Quakers. Not sure 100 is quite the right number, but the points are valid. Studies have shown that once a congregation reaches 120 there is no longer the feeling of knowing everyone.

While I think the problems of large size apply across denominational lines, they do represent particular problems for Quakers due to our heavy emphasis on participation by all. When churches get larger, members and attenders tend not to feel the responsibility they do when they are smaller.

Sometimes larger congregations should break into multiple smaller ones. Another approach is to put great emphasis on small groups so it becomes the small group which is the center for participants not the church as a whole.

Claire said...

I believe that we grow most when we aren't measuring ourselves. The whole world is growth crazy right now, but big institutions are failing us. It's nice to rest in silence with people you know.

Brent Bill said...

Thanks, all, for your comments!

Mark Winner said...

Thanks for these thoughts, Brent. Very helpful for contemplation today. I'm trying to figure out how to accomplish your list with over 400 and you're assessment seems legit... it's tough!

mauri macy said...

It's true small churches/groups can do things large churches/groups can't. The vice is also's true. 'Could be there's no special virtue in either.

broschultz said...

I think there's a time in a body's life when it has to split. I believe splitting is the natural way to multiply. A body must be healthy to split and survive. The two new bodies must be able to grow just like the original body. How large the body grows probably depends on factors we are not aware of as they relate more to spiritual goals or objectives that we don't think of.

Brent Bill said...

Thanks for your comments, Mauri. While I agree somewhat -- that small churches can do things big ones can't and vice versa -- I don't think the things that big churches are called to do are the things that Quaker congregations are called to do. That's because they come, in my opinion, at the expense of those 8 things I delineated, which should be, I think, the hallmark of Quaker life together. While I disagree with much of what passes for Quaker exceptionalism (i.e. how special we are, how the testimonies are only ours, etc), I do think we have a unique call in this world. And acting like other Protestant groups is not part of that call. So under 100 and nimble in faith (not beholden to structure and form; responsive instead, as a whole body to the leadings of Christ) is what we should be about. In my opinion.

Janatude said...

One of the things that's great about my meeting is that we're small. That can be off-putting to some people, because they might think it's a threat to Quakers overall. But it is a thriving meeting, where you can expect to see Friends regularly. Also, because it's small, no one gets lost or swallowed up. We can see what another member needs and help take care of him or her. It's a support system outside of the worship room—exactly, I think—what a Quaker meeting should be. Now, outside of my meeting, I do think Quakers have some work to do if they want to avoid sinking into oblivion. What my husband and I are working on, The First Day, is an effort to help keep Quakers on the map, even though it's much broader than the topics covered in a meeting for business. And the New Meetings Project you're doing sounds like a great way to help spread the word that Quakers LIVE, as well!