The Barna Group recently published a study about the teachings and beliefs of small churches versus large churches. The conclusion of the study states that "there are clearly significant differences between the smallest and largest of Protestant churches in terms of the theological beliefs of adherents." Below is a chart of their findings:
|Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches||60%||63%||70%||67%||75%|
|Have personal responsibility to tell others your beliefs||41||44||47||53||61|
|Your religious faith is very important in your life||82||83||90||88||90|
|Satan/devil is a living being not just a symbol of evil||30||29||36||38||51|
|A good person cannot earn a place in Heaven||33||39||47||48||55|
|On earth Jesus Christ did not commit sins, like other people||49||50||59||65||74|
|God is the omnipotent, omniscient creator who rules all||81||81||86||86||90|
|Born again Christian (see definition below)||63||64||69||81||75|
|Evangelical Christian (see definition below)||9||11||21||24||25|
|Number of respondents in this subgroup||547||306||247||120||114|
One very interesting observation is that the beliefs of the congregation became more orthodox (from a classical Christian view of theology) as the congregation became larger. Conventional wisdom would lead us to think that the larger the congregation became, the more diverse the beliefs of the group as a whole. Conversely, one would think that the smaller the congregation, the less diverse the beliefs of the group. But that was not the findings from the Barna study.
What could account for this? I have a couple of ideas:
1. Large churches tend to have more educated and skilled teachers of God's Word, which would lead to the congregation sitting under solid Bible teaching much more consistently. Large churches simply have more resources and are able to pay larger salaries for great pastors. Highly skilled preachers might start off at small churches, but soon that church becomes much larger due to the growth that excellent and solid teaching brings. Either that or the skilled preacher at the smaller church is soon "recruited" by the large church whose pastor is retiring and they need a great young pastor to fill his shoes for teh next couple of decades.
2. Christians develop a longing for great Bible teaching and therefore seek out congregations where they can be challenged in that way. This leads them to the larger, multi-staff churches. Multi-staff churches can better divide responsibilities of ministry among the staff members so that the strongest teachers and preachers can focus on that aspect of ministry. Pastors of smaller churches are typically the only full-time staff member and are therefore required to minister in a variety of ways throughout the week. This is a wonderful calling and many pastors work long, thankless hours for the benefit of their congregations. This leads to leaders who are "jacks of all trades but masters of none." This concept applies to the lay leadership of a church as well. A large church may have several highly qualified and experienced teachers and leaders, while a small church has very few, if any. A large church can pick and choose and take time to develop new leaders and teachers, while the small church takes what it can get in this area. What suffers? Obviously the quality of the teaching the congregation is exposed to on a regular basis.
Feel free to contribute your thoughts and experiences to the discussion.
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* these are descriptions of the actual survey questions, not the wording of the questions actually used in the research.
** Adult attendance on an average weekend