I recently visited a church and enjoyed a wonderful service. They’ve been in existence for over eight years but only have about 175 in worship. Those may be good numbers for a Communist country or a blue state, but not for South Carolina.
The pastor is a great guy. Good preaching. Love the music and worship leader. Terrific band. Even their website and graphics are professional and well done. I don’t know of any trouble in the church. In fact, they’re doing everything that the Official WorshipIdeas Handbook for Successful Worship (i.e. this website!) would advise. So I’m sitting in the service wondering “why won’t this place grow?”
Then it hit me: oversaturation.
Greenville, SC has been called the buckle of the Bible belt. There’s almost literally a church on every corner. There simply aren’t enough Christians to go around. Here’s a general breakdown of the church numbers in the area:
- Church 1: Expository preaching church: 2,500
- Church 2: A more contemporary version of Church 1: 4,000
- Church 3: A less contemporary version of Church 1: 1,700
- Church 4: Charismatic Church 1: 2,000
- Church 5: Charismatic Church 2: 2,000
- Church 6: Famous Charismatic Church: 10,000
- Church 7: Northpoint-type Church 1: 4,000
- Church 8: Northpoint-type Church 2: 1,500
- Church 9: Northpoint-type Church 3: 2,500
- Church 10: Famous Evangelical Church plant: 5,000
- Big Southern Baptist Church 1: 2,000
- Big Southern Baptist Church 2: 2,300
- Big Southern Baptist Church 3: 2,000
- Big Presbyterian Church: 2,000
- Plus over 60 little Southern Baptist churches, probably running between 50-300.
- Plus a myriad of Methodist, Lutheran and Charismatic churches, probably running between 50-300.
- Plus a contemporary church plant in every movie theater and many strip malls, probably running between 50-300.
- Plus, 30 minutes away from Greenville in one direction are a few Southern Baptist churches over 2,000, and 30 minutes in the other direction is one of the largest upcoming churches in the country with over 10,000.
If you’re looking for a church here you’ll find one to match your taste. We’ve got the bases covered, so if you want to start a church in Greenville you better have dancing monkeys, robots or something equally incredible to set yourselves apart.
The church I referred to earlier, while wonderful, is really just a tiny, less glamorous version of Church #10 with 5,000 people. “But some people like smaller churches!” you might argue. Yep, about 175.
It isn’t just about Christian attendees. This church has seen several conversions. But then again, Church #10 has seen hundreds. The big Church #10 is experiencing the snowball effect – the bigger it gets the faster it gets even bigger. My guess is an unsaved person would be more likely to visit, or have even heard about, Church #10 and not the tiny copy.
Does size matter? Yes and no. A healthy church should be growing, whether you’re growing at 20 new members a year or 2,000. I know of another new church plant meeting in a movie theater, yet another carbon copy of big Church #10, that has amassed 300 people. The pastor is frustrated that they’re not bigger. I say they should be thrilled they’re as big as they are here in Greenville, especially within the shadow of Church #10.
Bottom Line: God has a purpose for ministries both big and small. But if your attendance is not what you think it should be and everything else is in check, you might simply be experiencing ovesaturation – especially in the South. How can your worship service be unique?
EDIT: In the few years since I originally wrote this article, Greenville has seen a surge of growth (probably because it shows up on many national “Top Places to Live/Retire” -type lists.) Interestingly, the church I speak about here has over doubled in size. Same great preaching and music – nothing has changed. My theory is the only thing that has changed is that there are more people in town. I’d guess other churches are also seeing growth as the population increases.