Churches are classified into four types according to size: family congregations, pastoral congregations, large program congregations, and very large corporate congregations. When average service attendance is 50 or less, churches function as extended family systems. Almost everyone knows almost everyone else’s name. There may be no full-time clergy. Instead, family church life depends on key persons, matriarchs and patriarchs, to undertake and to persist in leadership roles.
In a pastoral church, a single full-time minister serves a congregation where attendance averages between 50 and 150. It is no longer the case that everyone knows everyone, but most people recognize the faces of other regulars and the names of many. There may be two or three distinct family-style networks. The minister knows everyone and, along with the elected board, becomes the center. Pastoral churches move away from dependence on extended periods of service by critical individuals, the matriarchs and patriarchs.
Our fellowship is in transition from family congregation to pastoral congregation. This brings strain: we lose some of the intimacy of a family-like group, we need to identify and develop leaders beyond the matriarchs and patriarchs, and we must adjust to the central role of a clerical professional.
Resistance to change explains why churches tend to plateau around the upper limit of each church size. It is not easy to break through; we were stable for quite a while. But we know—we have seen–– that UU has been, for many, a saving faith. So our new growth spurt, even with the growing pains, is cause for deep joy and celebration.
I feel this joy. It brings tears to my eyes.