Church Leader Foundations, Church Size, Size Transitions

Share this:


Part of the ministry resources on Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal.


Typologies for Church Size



Churches of different sizes possess distinct congregational cultures. Intentional shifts from one size to the next require deliberate attention to dynamics such as church orientation, congregational structure, who sets the direction, the role of ministry staff, how decisions are made, how change takes place, etc. This is one of the most basic realities of congregational life.

Most who write and read in this field are of a church growth orientation which says churches, numerically speaking, either grow, plateau, or decline, and that faithful churches should choose to grow, i.e. in number. Certainly one may make the missional choice to remain smaller, and there is nothing inherently better about larger churches. But if the choice to ignore size transitions arises out of an unwillingness to intentionally advance the kingdom of God, to evangelize and do good work, or to steward the increase God may bring as a result of honest ministry, this raises questions about missional faithfulness. It seems that regardless of one’s orientation, whether traditional, pragmatic/church growth, or missional, it is important to pay attention to size dynamics.

go to top

Size Typologies for Churches

There are several ways of classifying church types according to size. The classic categorization came from Arlin Rothauge, Sizing Up a Congregation for New Member Ministry.

  • Family (up to 50)
  • Pastoral (51-150)
  • Program (151-350)
  • Corporate (351+)

Following this were the seven categorizations of Lyle Schaller in Looking in the Mirror, along with two types he added in The Very Large Church:

  • Fellowship/cat (35 or less)
  • Small church/collie (35-100)
  • Middle-sized/garden (100-175)
  • Awkward size/house (175-225)
  • Large/mansion (225-450)
  • Huge/ranch (450-700)
  • Mini-denomination/nation (750+)
  • Very large (751-1,800)
  • Megachurch (1,801-plus)

One of the more recent is Gary McIntosh, Taking Your Church to the Next Level, who lists five:

  • The Relational Church: 15-200 worshippers
  • The Managerial Church: 200-400 worshippers
  • The Organizational Church: 400-800 worshippers
  • The Centralized Church: 800-1,500 worshippers
  • The Decentralized Church: 1,500-plus worshippers

Another recent text by Susan Beamont, Inside the Large Congregation, focuses on large congregations, and suggests a three-fold typology:

  • Professional church (400-800 in worship attendance)
  • Strategic church (800-1,200)
  • Matrix church (1,200-2,000)

A post-COVID study by Lifeway Research (November, 2022) revealed even more startling statistics about church size among Protestant churches in the US:

  • Smaller churches – Under 50 in attendance: 31% of all churches
  • Mid-size churches – 51–99: 37%
  • Large churches – 100–249: 24%
  • Larger churches – 250 and above: 8%

There are others, but the lists above demonstrate the common perspective that each church size embodies certain characteristics, and that as churches pass from one size to the next, they must adjust.

Another area of concern that is not based on the assumption of transitioning upward but downward, even to the point of congregational closure. This is an important concern, especially as congregations may end creatively as a catalyst to new life. A whole section below is devoted to the subject of “ending well.”

go to top


The following resources address the full range of church size issues. Each is listed in alphabetical order unless indicated otherwise. Remember to see the bottom of the page for a list of related Ministry Resource Guides.

First Reads on Size-Transitions Overall (in suggested order)

go to top

First Reads on Size Transitions for Smaller Churches (in suggested order)

go to top

Other Helpful Resources on Size Transitions

Large Congregations

Transitioning Downward, Navigating Healthy Church Closures

go to top

Related Ministry Resources

See Other Resources on Church Leadership and Renewal:

Ministry Resources on Related Areas

See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry:

go to top