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Myth 10. Most worshipers attend services in small congregations.

This is probably the most profound reality facing congregations today. Most congregations are small. But most worshipers are in large congregations. Re-read that last sentence: Most congregations are small. But most worshipers are in large congregations. A wide gap exists between where the largest numbers of people worship and the size of the typical congregation.

To illustrate this seeming paradox, imagine a small town of 1,000 people -- we'll call it Lake Maybehere, Minnesota. This town has 10 congregations of various faith groups -- Catholic, Protestant, and other religions. If all worshipers were equally spread among the congregations, each congregation would have 100 members (assuming everyone in town attends religious services!).

But this is not the case. For example, one of the congregations is a Catholic parish. Since Catholics are organized geographically into parishes, all the Catholics in town would go to the Catholic church. Because Catholics make up 25% of the population, 250 people would be attending Mass there.

That leaves only 750 people in town as potential worshipers for the other nine congregations. Are the 750 people spread out evenly among the remaining nine congregations?

Probably not. One congregation may have a charismatic leader, a wonderful program for children and youth, or a new building. They average 350 people in worship every week. Quite a crowd in this small town!

Now only 400 people are left to attend services at the other eight congregations. If each of these eight congregations got their "fair share," it would mean they only attract 50 worshipers each!

While eight out of the ten congregations are small, 60% of the people in this imaginary town worship in a large church, synagogue or temple.

Congregational Size

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Last modified April 25, 2002 by U.S. Congregations Home Page Manager