Church Size: it makes a difference!

Its hard to know exactly what to expect when walking into a church for the first time. But knowing the size of the church (or at least, the category of size the church fits into) can help you predict what type of experience you’re going to have! Dr. Lyle Schrag has created a diagram that splits church size into four different categories that accurately define churches of those sizes based on structure, pastoral role, board role, staff role, and motivation for growth. To see this specific diagram, click here. Applying these categories to the churches included in this project makes it easier to categorize the worship experiences of each church.

Category Size in Numbers
Family Church 50-200 People
Pastoral Church 200-400 People
Program Church 400-800 People
Corporate Church 800-1200 People

Corporate ChurchPastoral ChurchProgram ChurchFamily ChurchCalvary ChurchCommunity Christian Church: Yellow BoxGood Shepherd Lutheran ChurchFirst Congregational ChurchKnox Presbyterian ChurchLiving Water Evangelical ChurchOur Saviours Lutheran ChurchWheatland Salem St John’s United Church of Christ7,5002,5001,50016540080075045050

Note: the numbers in the table are in terms of number of church members, not people in weekly attendance. The numbers included in the graph about the churches in Naperville are number of weekly worshipers. This means that some numbers in the table do not match up with the numbers and categorization of the Naperville churches. Furthermore, there is no category larger than the “Corporate Church”, so while all of the churches in that category are larger than the numbers in the table, they still apply to that category.


The Family Church

The family church is driven by the congregation. In these churches, the leadership is typically made up of one pastor who leads the congregation in worship. However, this pastor often assumes the role of a facilitator of conversation rather than a worship leader. Decisions regarding the church are made by the congregants in the community, and the pastor is the one who carries out the actions decided by them. It is the people in the church who hold everything together. These churches are very community oriented, meaning that their events, programs, and classes all feel like family gatherings that are very intimate.

While they are very welcoming to new members, they are not particularly driven to grow on a large scale. Instead, their growth is driven through relationships formed between people and the pastor. Newcomers are often introduced through friends or family who already attend the church.

This type of church is incredibly steeped within the relationships between the congregants. Often, you will find that they are challenged to bring forth a clear mission or vision statement out of the existing relationships.

What should you expect from a worship experience at a Family Church?

General Expectations

As Naperville is a community of large churches, only one church in my research fits this category: St John’s United Church of Christ. As someone who loves small churches, I felt fairly comfortable being welcomed into this small yet intimate community. But it is important to realize that if you choose to become apart of a Family Church, you need to be prepared to stand out the first few times you attend a worship service. Family churches are intimate communities, and while they are warm and welcoming, visitors are often few and in between. As a result, everyone will be warm and welcoming towards you at the same time. Since they see the same faces in worship week after week, they will notice if you’re new. In my own experience, I was kind of nervous about sticking out. But as soon as I walked through the doors of St John’s, the pastor warmly greeted me and welcomed me to his church, genuinely excited I was there. As I went to sit down, people smiled and greeted me. Thankfully, it didn’t seem overpowering or uncomfortable, but just the right amount of personal interaction.

What does worship look like?

Once worship started, I noticed some specific differences that directly correlated to the amount of people in the room. (For reference, there were around 40 when I conducted my observation):

The interactions between the pastor and the congregants during the service seemed personal and sometimes conversational. Since everyone knows everyone, there is an added layer of intimacy within the worship service. Even the most simple of interactions seemed personal. For someone like me who often finds the distance between the worship leader/pastor and the congregation a bit too removed during the service, I really enjoyed this part of the experience!

Announcements and Prayer are both interactive. What is normally a time for the Pastor to update everyone on what is going on in the church, announcements in a family church become a time for everyone in the congregation to talk about what is going on in the community: what service projects they’re organizing or what events/get togethers are happening in the week. In addition, the time for prayer is full of people voicing their prayer requests aloud for everyone to pray over for the upcoming week.

Music is fairly participatory In a family church, everyone knows the music, and most people participate! They are pretty central in choosing the hymns for each week, so naturally they are all very familiar with the musical repertoire.

Many people in Naperville are not familiar with the Family Church experience. While there are certainly drawbacks to this size, such as lack of vision/direction, ministry opportunities, and resources, family churches reach a new level of communal intimacy that brings everyone together each Sunday for worship.

The Pastoral Church

The Pastoral Church is driven by (unsurprisingly) the pastor of the church. Typically, these churches have 1 or 2 pastors that facilitate conversation, initiate service projects, and build various programs. These churches are more focused on coming together through vision or mission statements. Still small enough for an intentional level of relationships between everyone, these churches maintain the atmosphere of a small church while functioning on a higher, more organized level.

The growth of pastoral churches is determined by the pastor and the congregation simultaneously. This varies from church to church, determined by their congregational dynamics. Churches of this size need to ask themselves if congregational growth is desired and if the church can accommodate it.

What should you expect from a worship experience at a Pastoral Church?

General Expectations

Once again, I only encountered one church that fit this category: First Congregational United Church of Christ. Walking into this church, I was nervous but also confident. Since it is the oldest church in Naperville, I was very excited to see what it looked like on the inside. Unlike St John’s, the pastor was not waiting at the door. Instead, there were greeters who definitely knew I was a newcomer. Even though this congregation is a bit larger in size, it was still small enough where everyone knew everyone. Being a visitor, multiple people came up and introduced themselves saying things like: “I haven’t seen you here before! Welcome!” Since churches this size tend to be a bit more oriented towards welcoming new members, its not surprising at all that they had greeters whose purpose was to talk to me. As a result, I was very glad for the conversation and enjoyed getting to know people in the congregation!

What does worship look like?

Worship in churches this size tend to be a mixture of what I observed in the Family Size church and larger churches. There is still certainly a sense of intentional participation (specifically during times of prayer when people can voice their prayer requests aloud), but the pastor’s role in worship is more of a leader rather than a facilitator. He or she leads the congregation week after week, and takes action in leading the service projects and various ministries throughout the church. In the case of First Congregational, Reverend Mark Winters also took action in the local community, participating in events and engaging in conversations on behalf of his congregation.

If you are looking for a small church with more opportunities for service and volunteering in ministry, this is a great size for you!

The Program Church

The program church is a growing church that is dominated by the building of multiple ministries within the church. These churches have multiple pastors that are lead by a senior pastor and board. This leadership is described as “managerial leadership,” where the pastor directs the church and pursues leadership on a relational level to propel the congregation forward. The care shifts from the pastor onto the staff team. The pastor is meant to guide and direct the performance of the staff while maintaining vision focus and providing direction for the church as a whole. The growth of these churches is determined by the capacity of the church. There is a higher sense of growth and desire to fill the pews, and this goal becomes more pronounced the bigger the church becomes.

What should you expect from a worship experience at a Program Church?

General Expectations

Since there is a much larger size range within this category, Program churches all look slightly different. However, the church most fitting this description from my study is Our Saviours Lutheran Church. This church has multiple pastors that oversee all of their services. What makes them unique is their multiple-building campus, proposing certain challenges that really showcase the strengths of a “managerial leadership” team. It didn’t matter which campus I walked into, at every service I was greeted by the pastors. Despite their larger congregation, the pastors of Our Saviours maintain the relational intentionality of pastors of smaller churches. A church their size allows them to have the ministry capabilities with the strength of personal relationships with their congregants. While it is easier to go unnoticed as a visitor in a church of this size, there is still a sense of intimate community, but on a larger scale.

What does worship look like?

Worship at Our Saviours is certainly less personal, and a more corporate experience. While outside of the service the pastors strive to have meaningful conversation with every person they meet, the worship service is reserved as a space for them to lead the congregation in worship.

The Corporate Church

The Corporate Church is the largest church size. These churches are staff-driven, and their structure greatly resembles that of a business. Their leadership is considered “strategic,” as the pastor is viewed as the head of the staff. Their goal is to focus on the big picture rather than the day-to-day management. In this type of church, growth is expected to allow the church to flourish. They believe “that lack of growth leads to stagnation.”

What should you expect from a worship experience at a Corporate Church?

General Expectations
This type of church is always expecting visitors. Walking into Community Christian, you are met with many greeters assigned to welcome you and invite you into service. They are there to provide you with directions to children’s programming areas, further visitor information, and the worship center. These churches are eager and excited to see visitors, and have their welcoming system down to a science. However, once you’re in the worship center, you become apart of a much larger congregation.

What does worship look like?

Like the Program Church, worship in Corporate Churches is just as the label says, corporate. They are focused on the large group of people in the room, and sharing the message with all of them. Announcements and Prayers are less personal, but certainly still intentional. The sense of community in these churches is driven through their small group ministry. Since growth is expected, visitors are even addressed during the service. At Community Christian, they offer a meeting after every service called the “After Party”, where the pastor gets to introduce himself to the visitors and give them more information about the church. While interactions between the worship leader and the congregation are less personal in larger churches, worship is still an incredibly personal experience. With so many other people in the room, responding together as a congregation is often a very powerful experience.


Schrag, Lyle. “Best Practices for Church Boards: Church Dynamic Chart.”