What is average? In the area of quality, people say average is the middle of the road. Not exceptional, not terrible. But in mathematics average is a statement of what is typical. It is not a value statement for quality, it is a numerical statement of quantity. Average is the number that represents the most common of range of data sampled. On a bell curve, the average is where most people are.
Everyone wants to above average. We want to be exceptional. But the reality is that in any area of life or business, the majority of people will be in the range of average. This means that the most common human experience is the average experience, not the exceptional experience. Average is our reality. It is the world most of us live in. And it will always be that way.
In the church, no pastor wants to be average. Everyone of us believes that we will be the exception to the rule. We want to be the one that starts a church that grows to 10,000 people. Or who takes over a struggling church and builds it to a power house. Every pastor I have ever met has always begun thinking they were that person. But that is not the average pastor’s experience. That is the exception.
Consider the data:
Survey by Association of Religion Data says: (click here)
– 63.7% of churches in america are under 100 members
– 19.4% of churches are between 100-200 members
– Only 16.9 % of churches are over 200.
National Congregational Study says the median size church (the average church) is 75 people. Barna tells us that on any given weekend, 60% of believers in Jesus worship in a church that is fewer than 90 adults.
That means that the “average” pastor in America pastors a church of under 100 people. That is normal for our country. Yet in this day of mega churches, multi site and multi staff churches, it feels like the average pastor is not average at all. When we compare ourselves with the large church we feel like failures. The truth is, the mega church is not only below average, it is very rare. It is estimated that only 2% of our churches are over 1000 people. They are the exception, not the norm!
So why is everything in our culture telling us we are small? Why are all the conference speakers always pastors of the exception, not the norm? Why are all the books written by the 2% and not the 98%. Why are all the podcasts addressing the needs of the 20% who have multi level staff, large system churches? Why are so few resources available for the pastor leading a volunteer staff or the church in the rural community?
Average is not a sign of poor leadership, difficult people or lack of God’s blessing. Average is the normal experience for most pastors of most churches. It is not a problem to be fixed, its normal. It certainly has challenges and when compared to the experience of larger churches it has disadvantages. But the advantage that the large church experiences is a place of privilege and exception, not the ideal for every church. If we continue to compare ourselves with the exception we will always feel like a failure. But if we can compare ourselves to the normal church experience, we will see we are not failures at all. We are normal churches with normal challenges to be faced with faith and courage.
Some of you will end up exceptional. Your church may grow to a big church or a mega church. I hope you will. But the rest of us will continue to be normal. We will continue to be average. And average is OK.