AWA and Its Impact on Church Culture

Church denominations vary wildly in many aspects, such as doctrinal teaching, polity, roles of the pastor, roles of the laity, and the order and purpose of church services.  This statement stands as being obviously true to the vast majority of Christian believers, even to those who haven’t had the personal experience of visiting many denominations.  But what might stand as more of a shock to one’s system is realizing that even within a denomination that confessionally, or even on paper, contractually, holds all of these aspects in unity among its congregations, the culture present in each local body of believers can differ significantly to the point a worshipper might feel like a foreigner even in his own denomination.  This cultural difference isn’t in reference to expected differences that could arise from geographical variants, such as between Wisconsin Lutherans and Californian Lutherans.  This cultural shift lies within the church body itself and the change arises from the size of the church body’s Sunday average worship attendance (AWA).  Recognizing this cultural distinction is important for each congregation to be the best that it can be.

awa

In Gary L. McIntosh’s book, One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Bringing Out the Best in Any Size Church, he makes three cultural categories for churches based on the size of their AWA: small (15-200 AWA), medium (201-400 AWA), and large (401+ AWA).  From McIntosh, I learned that small churches have a relational orientation (everyone knows everyone and the pastor has personal a relationship with everyone), medium churches have a programmatical orientation (people mostly know others who are in the same program, group, or class and the pastor works more closely with the leaders of those groups and doesn’t know everyone in the church while still knowing a decent percentage of the congregation personally), and large churches have an organizational orientation (primarily the orientation comes through the senior pastor and the board’s vision and the pastor rarely interacts personally with people who are not part of the paid staff or under his specific ministry branch if he’s not the senior pastor).  In a class presentation by Dr. Peter on this information, I also learned about Arkub Riytgayge’s division of the cultural size differences which contains four groups: family size (1-50 AWA), pastoral size (51-150 AWA), program size (150-350 AWA), and corporate size (350-500+ AWA).  The differentiation between these sizes were very similar to McIntosh’s model, except here, the size divisions also created two additional divisions, that between the homogeneous congregation and heterogeneous congregation and between the group-centered church and the pastor-centered church, as demonstrated in the table below:

Pastor Centered

 

Pastoral Size
51-150
(Pastor knows everyone so it is homogenous)
Corporate Size
400-1000
Group Centered

 

Family Size
0-50
 

Program Size
151-400
(Varied worship services and groups, but the groups make it group focused)

Homogeneous
Organism

Heterogeneous

Organization

From McIntosh’s book, I learned that if a pastor tries to lead his congregation outside the bounds of his congregation’s size-culture, he will frustrate his congregation and himself.  The example in One Size Fits All was that of a pastor of a small (family) church who was leading as if he was a pastor of a large (corporate) church.  He was making all the decisions and creating new programs that were flopping.  He was vision casting and dreaming numerical growth strategies five to ten years into the future to people that only cared about the present state of the family (the church body).  He was doing all of this on his own initiative.  This could be fine if he was the senior pastor at a large congregation, but he wasn’t, and since he was at a small church, he really was doing all of this on his own.  Even in the large church, the senior pastor doesn’t do all the functional, nuts and bolts work, since he has a team of leaders that he directs and holds accountable, while they manage and work out their assigned ministry tasks with their teams.  For his setting, the pastor learned that he needed to be more relational, meeting with the members one on one, face to face, throughout the week, while saddling up next to the members who have primary influential sway within the congregation to get their approval for any new initiatives he’d like to implement before launching away with his plans.  As a lay member of congregations, I also learned that my previous experience being a part of a small church soured my understanding and expectations of the last congregations I’ve been a member.  They were medium sized churches that ran programmatically, and I wasn’t entrenched in any of the programs, while wanting to know everyone and have relationship with everyone like I did in the small congregation.  The result was that I hardly knew anyone and I felt as if the churches were failing to meet their most basic role in my life.

From that last point, I have had in mind more of a pastor-centered, pastoral congregation size setting for how I would lead as a pastor.  I have had plans in mind to be a pastor (shepherd) that goes to my sheep.  I’d want to meet with every man in the congregation one on one at least once a year, by meeting them for breakfast before their work day starts or going to their job site, meeting them at lunch breaks, for prayer, counsel, and basic relational bonding, as well as for encouraging and equipping them in using their gifts and talents in the congregation and in their day to day interactions.  My wife and I have discussed having a family over for dinner once a week or every other week for the same purposes, so that I could I get to know and minister to the women and children in the congregation too while protecting my marriage (following the Mike Pence rule!).  Now, from what I have learned about congregational size dynamics, I know that this approach to leadership will likely work wonders in a small church setting and help me build much trust and authority and influence to lead the church, but such work won’t be so helpful in a medium or large church.

In a medium sized church, I’d have to adjust this relational leadership plan to be focused on meeting with the leaders of all the congregation’s programs and boards:  Sunday School Director and teachers, praise band leader, elders, mission team leaders, small group leaders, and other key members.  McIntosh also mentioned that medium sized churches expect strong teaching and well-prepared sermons from their pastors, which is an element that I find appealing and I think I can excel at from my previous experience and evaluation feedback from being a teacher for the past twelve years.  It is through solid Sunday presentations that those in the congregation I don’t know will be connected to me, and based on the culture of the medium sized church, they’re fine with not personally knowing me as long as I deliver the goods on Sunday morning with excellence.  This means that in the medium-sized congregation, devoting more time to sermon and teaching preparation will be understood by the congregation, as long as I am generating quality material to justify that time allocation for those purposes.  Being a pastor at a medium-sized church might be up my alley, since I could still have much of the relational ministry element I desire, as well as the freedom to emphasize teaching in my pastoral ministry.

In a large sized church, I’d have to adjust my relational leadership by reducing my focus to the other pastors under my care if I’m the senior pastor, as well as the plethora of other staff, and of course the board of directors.  I’d also have to find the most influential members in the congregation and work and meet with them almost exclusively from out of all the members in the church.  Again, this is the culture of a large, corporate church setting, so this would be expected by the bulk of the congregation’s members, and it is what would be necessary for the church to thrive.  In many respects, this could be a very fulfilling position for me, since the relationships will be fewer and almost exclusively focused on the mission, vision, and work of the congregation – something that does fit well my political style of leadership.

In closing, after discovering the different culture dynamics that accompany the size of each congregation, and the necessity for the pastoral leadership methods to shift based on these dynamics, I’ve discovered that my one on one relational approach to ministry has a place in all sized congregations, but that the focus of who I should be relating with personally and ministerially will have to change depending on the size of the congregation.

Augustine – The Church in the World

Excerpts from Augustine’s The City of God, taken from New Advent:

Book 18, Chapter 49

“In this wicked world, in these evil days, when the Church measures her future loftiness by her present humility, and is exercised by goading fears, tormenting sorrows, disquieting labors, and dangerous temptations, when she soberly rejoices, rejoicing only in hope, there are many reprobate mingled with the good, and both are gathered together by the gospel as in a drag net; (Matthew 13:47-50) and in this world, as in a sea, both swim enclosed without distinction in the net, until it is brought ashore, when the wicked must be separated from the good, that in the good, as in His temple, God may be all in all.”

Book 18, Chapter 51

“Thus in this world, in these evil days, not only from the time of the bodily presence of Christ and His apostles, but even from that of Abel, whom first his wicked brother slew because he was righteous, (1 John 3:12) and thenceforth even to the end of this world, the Church has gone forward on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God.”

Quotes in my analysis below of these two brief excerpts come from the translation found in Readings in Christian Thought edited by Hugh T. Kerr.

Christians Thrown to the Lions.jpg


Augustine of Hippo stands as one of the greatest theologians of all time.  His works are still appealed to as an authority in both Roman Catholic and Protestant tradition on numerous and diverse subjects across two-hundred and thirty-two works.  From Augustine’s Confessions, we learn of his conversion from paganism to Christianity after living a life of grandiose sinful indulgences in his thirties.  Born in 354 AD, he lived through the roughly last fifty years of the Roman Empire’s existence, the first half being a pagan, and the second half being a Christian.  Augustine lived roughly another quarter of a century after the fall of Rome in 410 AD.  His mother was a Christian and his father was a pagan until his deathbed. This life experience deposits him into an advantageous position of first-hand familiarity with the mind of both the pagan and Christian, in a world where Christianity is the religion of the State and in which it is not.  After the fall of Rome, Christians received the blame for the end of the Roman Empire and the calamity and suffering that followed.  To comfort Christians, as well as to defend against such blame, Augustine wrote The City of God, drawing from his well-spring of knowledge of the inner workings of both the pagan and Christian worldviews as he wrote, to demonstrate the tension, even battle, between the kingdoms of man that continually rise and fall and the eternal kingdom of God that forever stands.

In the above excerpt from The City of God, Augustine writes with the purpose to remind Christians that the world is not their friend.  Despite the appearance of it for a time when Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire, the days are evil, and Augustine argues that this is to the Church’s benefit, because Augustine writes, “through the lowliness she now endures is winning the sublime station she is to have in heaven.” He justifies this position with two key points: a summary of Paul’s words in Romans 5 on the fruit born through suffering and an appeal to the historical suffering of God’s righteous people.  Like Paul, Augustine argues that suffering produces a deep-seated joy in the hope to come and a willingness to wait out the evil days until Christ separates his own from the children of the devil.  To keep the Church from getting too near sighted, thinking their current plight is unique to them, he reminds them that the apostles and the Church fathers suffered before Constantine made Christianity the religion of the State and that in fact God’s people have always agonized under the oppression of evil men, tracing all the way back to the beginning of man, when righteous Abel was murdered by his wicked brother, Cain.  Augustine concludes that as it was in the beginning with Abel, it will continue to be until the end of this age.

Underlying the purpose of his writing to remind his Christian readers that cities of men inevitably fall but God’s city will always remain is the question, “What then shall we do?”  With the evidence and reasoning Augustine provided, the answer appears to be nothing but a single answer – what Jesus said to the seven churches of Revelation – “Stand firm until the end.”  This single answer is to give the Christian the necessary knowledge to live in sight of better things to come, to not be attached to the world that certainly will end in fire and destruction at Christ’s return – to pull one’s head out of the “now” and to hope in the “not yet” reality of the City of God.  There are of course many activities the Christian can be pursuing in this world of woe: loving God, serving one’s neighbor, helping the poor and widowed, comforting those who mourn, being a voice for the voiceless, speaking the Gospel to all in his life, and etc., but the knowledge gleaned from Augustine’s answer is that none of these activities will put an end to suffering.  They might lead to a relative life of ease if the work of the Church through the Gospel and the Sacraments wins over the State as what had occurred with Constantine and Rome, but such peace won’t last, because it’s only given when the City of Man adopts the veneer of the City of God.

I thought this small, two paragraph excerpt from The City of God provided great insight for today’s Church in America (potentially the West as a whole, but particularly the American Church).  From personal experience, I have heard many, Americans and non-Americans, express the notion that America was founded on Christian values and liberties, going so far to say that America is a “Christian nation.”  Many of these same people argue that America has fallen from these traditional Christian values, often times using the term, “Post-Christian,” to describe the nation.  I read an article a few years ago by a LC-MS pastor about the shift Christians have experienced in America from being a people of “privilege” due to their religious majority to now being a people “unprivilege.”  In many ways, the City of God veneer has stripped away from the City of Man in America, and the Church is now seen as a resistance, a stumbling block to the progress the City of Man wants to make in the realms of sexual identity and activity, abortion on demand, religious syncretism, socialized programs that put more trust and power in the City of Man than in God and the love of one’s neighbor to help out in times of need, and even science because of the common Christian rejection of Darwinian Evolution.  Augustine reminds us too – this is nothing new.  It’s always been.

In America, we have excesses in material wealth and luxuries in comfort that many in the world cannot even comprehend.  Our extravagances can lead us to be attached to this world, to love the City of Man, in a way that others with less wealth might not be tempted to cling.  I lived one summer in a Mexican town that had no running water, no washer and dryers, no water heaters, now showers, just outhouses, no pavement, just dirt.  It’s common for Americans to come back from such locales and say, “But they were so happy.”  That was my experience too.  They weren’t so attached to the City of Man, and many of the people I interacted with were members of the City of God.  Their hope was in the life to come; not having their best life now.  Augustine’s writing was a wake-up call for me; to not grow fat and lazy; hard times will come.  His use of Abel being slain by his ungodly brother is what shook me.  I have read that historical narrative to be an example of the damaging effects of sin in the world; not the pitting of war between God’s people and the devil’s as Augustine framed it.  It reminded me that there is a war between two cities raging on and that I really should adjust and align myself not so much as an American-Christian, seeking to Make America Christian Again, but as a Christian who is a wayfarer in this world of woe, awaiting my Lord to bring me home.

98. Sharing the Gospel with Kids

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Dave, Tim, and Andy sit down to discuss how to go about sharing the Gospel with kids.

Andy shares two articles from church leaders who advocate for not sharing the Gospel with children at all.  They say it’s too violent; that the Gospel shows God to be an advocate of child sacrifice, and that the good news of Jesus is just plain developmentally inappropriate for kids.   Dave and Tim share their expertise on how to respond to such objections, as well as how to best share the Gospel with little ones.

Show Links:

“How To (and not to) Talk to Kids About Easter)” – Article

“Protect Children from the Violence of the Cross” – Article

“How to Teach the Crucifixion… even to Preschoolers” – Article Shared by Dave

Teaching the Faith at Home: What does this Mean?  How is this Done? – Dave’s Book

“Who is Serving in your Service?” – Reconnect Episode 30

“Keep the Kids in the Church Service?” – Dave’s Last Reconnect Episode

Hephatha Lutheran Church and School

82. Keep the Kids in the Church Service?

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kids-in-pews
Andy has David Rueter, the Director of the Director of Christian Education Program at Concordia University Irvine, and Jonathan Pratt as guest on this episode of Reconnect to share their thoughts on why it’s beneficial to the Body of Christ to have kids in church services, no matter how young, or how noisy they might be, and why it’s detrimental if we keep them separated.

Anna Mussmann’s article, “Four Reasons It Is Good Your Kids Are Being Too Noisy In Church”, provides a framework for their conversation, as well as research data from David’s Concordia Publishing House book, Teaching The Faith At Home: What Does This Mean? How Is This Done?.

Show Links

Anna Mussmann’s Article – “Four Reason It Is Good Your Kids Are Being Too Noisy In Church”

David Rueter’s Book – Teaching The Faith At Home: What Does This Mean? How Is This Done?

“Children Are Not Welcome In The Church Service”

Jonathan Pratt’s “Criteria For Discernment In Hymn Selection”

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