Have you ever heard of “Dunbar’s Number”? Discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is the human norm that the number of genuinely personal relationships a person can actively maintain is 150, give or take. Dunbar and his colleagues note that “150 people is both the approximate size of a typical small-scale human village and about the number of people who can live or work together without needing power structures to enforce cooperation. The group is small enough that social pressures can keep people in line” (“Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?” Christianity Today, October 2017, p. 62).
I find this interesting because at a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker said that currently a majority of congregations in America have an average weekly attendance of guess what? 150 members.
It occurs to me that this is not simply a coincidence. 150 appears to be the sweet spot for most churches for the very reasons that research for Dumbar’s Number indicates:
It keeps the group manageable. People do not become just a number. People know them by name. Functions can happen without an overflow of people and not in an oversize room.
It keeps the group personal. Everybody knows each other and can keep relationships functioning. People care about one another because they know them well and see them often.
It keeps the group accountable. People notice when others are missing and can follow up with them. People can see when fellow members are straying and can bring them back into the fold. There is a sense that people are expected to be present at certain times and be there for one another in times of need.
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According to a study done by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of the 3.6 million baptized members of that church body, half worship in congregations with an average attendance of 150 or less. And out of the ELCA’s 9.393 congregations, 82 percent have an average worship attendance of 150 or less (Lammi, Kurt, “Would They Notice?” Living Lutheran, p. 33). The conclusion? The denomination is mostly made up of small congregations (p. 33).
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Author Michael Kelley in the book Holy Vocabulary: Rescuing the Language of Faith, takes a good, hard look at how we approach the Lord’s Prayer.
“in modern usage,” he says, “the prayer has become something of an incantation, recited laboriously before a sports event or a civic meeting. It’s become a tool we use in an attempt to guarantee God’s endorsement of whatever we’re about to do” (p. 30).
Sounds somewhat harsh at first reading, but the more I think about it, the more he is right about how I personally approach the Lord’s Prayer from time to time: something to just say, get through and check off to say I talked to God today.
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Today marks the 1-year anniversary of this blog. Thank you, dear readers, for joining me on the journey this past year, and I look forward to the holy journey yet to come.
For today’s post I would like to focus on another new reality of communications from Pastor Matt Peeples that we need to be aware of in the church:
Even though we have more ways to interact with each other than ever before, we also all have an abundance of options to control at what level we wish to interact with one another. We can set up controls to limit the amount of information shared on any given platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and we can choose to block people or hide posts.
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Pastor Matthew Peeples has identified 16 new realities of communication that we as Christians need to be aware of as we are in the business of communicating the message of the Gospel. I will be touching on these new realities in several posts throughout this year. Here is the first new reality:
We are simultaneously connected and disconnected.
I do find it interesting that we have an ever-expanding range of ways to connect with each other, but we seem more disconnected from each other than ever before.
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I’m sure by now most of you are aware of the adult coloring book craze that is sweeping the nation. I for one cannot make sense of its appeal. Maybe because I had tough art teachers in the past who reprimanded me for not coloring “in the lines,” and I am afraid of not “doing it right.”
But the theory behind it is that coloring is a creative endeavor and clears our minds of troubling thoughts and sharpens our brains’ abilities in other tasks.
The craze has made inroads into Christian publishing recently with adult coloring books being launched that include religious imagery and Bible verses. The books are presented as a kind of tool to use as a devotional or meditative spiritual outlet. And many are finding that to be so for themselves in their personal faith-walk.
Going a step further, there is a larger trend developing in the publication of Bibles that includes more white space in the margins to allow for drawing, doodling, coloring and note-taking on the Scripture passages on the pages. I do like this idea, because it makes the activity of Bible-reading something that is more personal, more intimate, more tangible, more practical, and less academic and structured and orderly. Continue reading →
Be neighborly. Who knows what God has in mind?
The mere-exposure effect is the well-documented psychological phenomenon that people tend to respond favorably to and think positively about anything they are merely exposed to regularly or are familiar with. I recently heard about it on an NPR story involved a study of parents’ perception of the educational system in our country. While a high percentage of parents had an unfavorable opinion of the educational system as a whole, they had a very favorable rating of their children’s school or the school in their community. Fascinating!
I think this effect has some applications, both positive and negative, for us as Christians.
On the positive side, while many people in our country may have an unfavorable attitude toward the institutional church as a whole, they may be more receptive to regular personal contact from individual Christians who talk to them on the street, wave hello, stop by to drop off some food when they are sick, etc. This is an opportunity for us to be a friend and a good example of what the Christian life is all about: loving one another on a personal level because of the love that God has shown to us in Christ.
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Church staffers are meeting at the coffee shop to read the Word of God more and more.
Recently in Outreach magazine, William Vanderbloemen, co-author of Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, identified five current trends in church staffing that I found interesting and from which we as those who serve the church can learn. Here are my thoughts on each:
- Out with the specialist, in with the leaders. No longer do churches need someone who is highly specialized in one area. What is more in demand is someone who can effectively lead a group and motivate people to action.
- The succession conversation is vital. There is much more discussion within churches about the direction in which ministry is going and who will be taking over the role of pastor to guide the church in that particular direction. There is a more hands-on approach within congregations as to who will be called for pastoring the next generation of believers.
- Experts on millennials are in high demand. As much as I don’t want to admit it, we as a church must understand more fully what drives the millennial generation of believers. We cannot “do church” the same old way anymore. We need input in church planning from those who have a handle on reaching out to Christian millennials in meaningful ways to them.
- Personal touch is paramount. There needs to be a sense that the church staff cares about each member individually. People need to be treated like family and not like numbers on an attendance sheet. Members recognize the difference and will run out the door if they are not welcomed warmly.
- Impersonal services are being outsourced. Like in many businesses these days, such things as accounting and maintenance are being outsourced so that the church staff can be more involved in the life of the congregation and not stuck behind a desk combing through paperwork. The church is about reaching out to people with Christ, and that is done most effectively face-to-face and in person, with church workers in homes and hallways and parks and coffee shops, wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name.
As I ponder these trends as a product developer of church resources, I realize even more clearly that our materials need to be practical to get people active, they need to be forward-thinking, they need to meet the needs of the growing population, they must have a personal touch and they must provide a sense of care from the faith community. I eagerly await what the Spirit sends my way as I brainstorm new avenues to spreading the Gospel message in the church through the written word in this ever-changing time.