“Large congregations are unique in the ELCA and every other Christian denomination. Because the percentage of large congregations is relatively small, they are often an unknown quantity to the rest of the church body. As I have often stated, ‘Large congregations are not necessarily better or worse congregations, but they are different.’
I am privileged in my calling to relate to large congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I do not claim to be an expert, but I have been privileged to gain some insights into the workings and ministries of large congregations, and the ways in which they are often unique in the ministry of the whole church.
This website is an opportunity to try and answer some questions about large congregations, and to dispel some myths along the way. Every ministry is important. Blessings to you in the ministry to which you have been called by God.”
Rev. Mark A. Grorud
Director for Relationships with Large Membership Congregations
Frequently Asked QuestionsHow does the ELCA specifically relate to large congregations?
The ELCA is committed to listening to the voices of all congregations. For large congregations, the position of Director for Relationships to Large Membership Congregations was established. The Rev. Mark A. Grorud was called to this position in March, 2005. What group of large congregations does this ELCA position serve?
This position is called to serve both numerically large congregations and congregations that are “large in context”. Additionally, this position is a ministry to the whole church and is available to support congregations and synods wherever needed. What defines a “large congregation?”
For the purpose of this web page, a “large congregation” is initially defined as a congregation with an average Sunday worship of 750+. What is “large in context?”
It is a recognition again that every synod has large congregations, but what is considered “large” in one synod may not be in another synod. Regardless of worshipping size, your congregation may be one of the larger congregations in your synod and therefore dealing with large congregation issues in that context. How many synods have large congregations?
All of them! Every synod has large congregations, some are just larger than others. They may not be congregations worshiping 750+, but in the context of the particular synod, they are large. Do differently sized congregations have different characteristics?
Yes! There is significant research available on the dynamics of differently sized congregations. Family sized congregations typically worship 75 or less. Pastoral sized congregations worship 76-199. Program sized congregations worship 200-399. Corporate sized congregations worship 400 +. Depending on the author and source of research, those numbers will adjust slightly. The important thing is that many of the important aspects of ministry are viewed differently by each of these different sizes of congregations. The role of the pastor, the pattern of governance, and congregational discipleship priorities are some of the significant differences to be found between these congregations. A large congregation is not simply a large version of a small congregation, nor a small congregation a smaller version of a large congregation. They think differently, have different expectations, and often have different priorities. One size is not better than any other. Each is uniquely gifted by God for the ministry to which the Spirit has called them in that place. Is there a better name for “Corporate”-sized congregations?
The word “Resource” is beginning to be used as a substitute for “Corporate”. “Resource” describes the ability of this sized congregation to develop it own resources, as well as to be a significant resource to the ministry of the community, other congregations, the synod, and even churchwide ministries. What is a “Mega” congregation?
The term “mega congregation” is generally applied to any congregation with an average Sunday worship of 2000+. There are currently nine mega congregations in the ELCA. How many congregations are there in the ELCA?
As of October 15, 2008, there are 10,408 congregations in the ELCA. What is the breakdown of different worshipping sized congregations in the ELCA?
In the ELCA, based on average Sunday worship, there are:
94 congregations worshipping 750
170 congregations worshipping 500-749
614 congregations worshipping 300-499
954 congregations worshipping 200-299
2,652 congregations worshipping 100-199
3,198 congregations worshipping 50-99
2,726 congregations worshipping under 50 This is not a dissimilar range from other large denominations in the U.S.What is the median worshipping size of congregations in the ELCA?
The median worshipping size is 86. To put it another way, 50% of the congregations in the ELCA worship more than 86, and 50% worship fewer than 86 on an average Sunday.What is the average worshipping size of congregations in the ELCA?
The “average” ELCA congregation worships 131.4 saints of God on a given Sunday. Why use “worshipping size” as the benchmark?
There is no perfect method of measuring the size of a congregation. Baptized members, confirmed members, total budget, total benevolence, percentage of baptized members worshipping, per capita giving, per capita benevolence giving, and growth or loss in any of these categories all help to give a picture of a congregation’s vitality, regardless of size. “Worshipping size”, however, has come to be accepted as the most accurate (though certainly inadequate in many ways) method of measuring congregation size. It is what most demographers and statisticians use.Where are large congregations located? Large congregations are located across the country.
Certain synods, however, have more of the largest congregations (those worshipping 750+). There are:
15 large congregations in the Minneapolis Area Synod
13 large congregations in the St. Paul Area Synod
10 large congregations in the Grand Canyon Synod In terms of regional location, there are:
0 large congregations in Region 1
16 large congregations in Region 2
43 large congregations in Region 3
5 large congregations in Region 4
17 large congregations in Region 5
6 large congregations in Region 6
1 large congregation in Region 7
3 large congregations in Region 8
2 large congregations in Region 9 What is the community context of congregations worshiping 750+?
A primary location for large congregations is suburbia, and small to medium-sized cities. Specifically, large congregations (worshipping 750+) are found in the following areas:
0 Rural Farming
0 Rural Non-Farming
2 Small Town Under 10,000
14 Small City, 10,000 to 49,999
21 Medium City, 50,000 to 249,999
4 Suburb to Medium City
15 Large City, 250,000 or More
24 Near Suburb of Large City, less than 10 miles away
14 Distant Suburb of Large City, more than 10 miles awayWhat is the historical background of large congregations?
There is no easy answer here. The oldest large congregation is perhaps Trinity Evangelical in Frederick, Maryland, founded in 1738. Other large congregations are 20 years old or younger. Many large congregations were “mission starts” in the 50’s and 60’s. In terms of predecessor church body connections, 52 of the congregations worshipping 750+ come from an ALC background, 38 come from an LCA background, and 4 were formed since the beginning of the ELCA.What percentage of the ELCA’s worshipping membership are found in large congregations?