The Very Large Church [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: One of the most crucial changes in North American life, Lyle E. Schaller explains, has been the shift from small to large institutions. Sixty years ago one-teacher, one-room schoolhouses still abounded, and the average number of students in all American schools was one hundred. Now new construction on elementary schools is often for facilities that will accommodate more than twelve hundred students, and average school size is over six hundred.
Similar changes have happened in several other branches of American life. These changes, Schaller contends, mean that the rules have changed for everyone involved in organization life. Very large churches - megachurches -- will increasingly come to embody the new rule-book for congregations. Extending their mission far beyond a single local neighborhood, they will draw large numbers of visitors, helping them move from skeptics or seekers to believers to learners to disciples to apostles, and move them progressively.
Key Features: ; Focuses on issues in organization life-Schaller's strong suit ; Addresses a tendency that is growing today Key Benefits: ; Places the shift to large churches within the context of a cultural shift from small to large institutions ; Demonstrates how and why the old rule-book for organizational structure must change ; Helps church leaders understand how to make the transition to the megachurch culture while retaining Christian integrity The Very Large Church was written for those congregational leaders, both volunteer and paid staff, who recognize that their old rule-book is obsolete and who are eager to learn how to participate effectively in the very large church in a context that is defined by the culture, the societal context, clearly defined expectations, a theological belief system, a passion for evangelism, a high level of competence, creativity, innovation, and a new and different set of rules, rather than by local traditions, geographical boundaries, or yesterday's stereotypes.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2002
In May 1937 I graduated from the Hickory Park Elementary School, a tax-supported public school located on a one-acre campus three miles south of Lime Ridge, Wisconsin. The campus included four white wood buildings. The largest was a one-room (two, if you count the entry area, which also served as the cloakroom) building that contained 32 desks for students, plus the large teacher's desk and a bookcase that contained the 200-volume school library.
The second largest building was a woodshed that contained the supply of hardwood used to fire the furnace in the school basement. After playing in the wet snow, standing over that hot air register in the middle of the room was a memorable way to dry off and warm up. The other two structures were small privies; the one south of the woodshed was for girls and the one to the north for boys. The campus also included two steel swings, a softball diamond, a well with a hand-operated pump, and a dozen trees.
By definition, the teacher's role was as a generalist who taught all subjects from art to history to music and spelling, but who also served as the chief administrator, disciplinarian, coach, custodian, surrogate parent, arbitrator of disputes, school nurse, playground supervisor, director of the annual Christmas pageant, and counselor.
For eight years it was, next to the family, the center of life for the 28 to 32 children enrolled in one of the eight grades. That school district, which was an independent unit of local government, covered an area approximately two miles by three miles in size that included three dozen farms.
The graduating class of 1934 was taught by the nineteen-year-old son of one of those families. He had graduated with the eighth graders of 1928 and, therefore, had been an older schoolmate of some of the class of 1934. After four years in a nearby high school and a year at the county normal (teacher training) school, located fifteen miles from his home (but far beyond commuting distance), he returned to teach for three years at his alma mater. Several years later he earned his doctorate and became a university professor.
The one-room country school was a wonderful invention! It facilitated peer learning, encouraged egalitarianism, rewarded merit, modeled respect for legitimate authority, emphasized the three R's, and reinforced the need to master skills in interpersonal relationships. With a typical enrollment between 15 and 32, it encouraged one-to-one relationships between teacher and learner. It was as large as a social network can be and still retain the luxuries of intimacy and simplicity. It also was the ideal institution for socializing the children and grandchildren of the immigrants from Western Europe into the culture, political system, economy, language, and labor force of the United States.
It was small enough, in terms of the number of students, for an easy transition from the family nest into a larger social setting. The typical first grader already knew a majority of the student body before that scary first day of school.
In 1935, incidentally, the total dollar cost of operating the Hickory Park School averaged out to approximately $30 per pupil for the year. (That would be the equivalent of approximately $500 in 2000 terms after allowing for inflation. In 1935, $30 was two weeks' salary for an experienced elementary school teacher. In 2000, $500 was two days' salary for an experienced elementary school teacher.)
After eight years in that small friendly, supportive, intimate, relatively simple, easy-to-comprehend, and substantially homogeneous social setting, most of us entered into a more intimidating, far more complex, less user friendly, more competitive, and heterogeneous environment called high school.
These institutions typically employed three to ten full-time adults, most of them specialists who were comfortable explaining what did not fit into their job description. A few accepted the role of surrogate parent, friend, or counselor, but usually with only a tiny number of students. English teacher, coach, principal, bus driver, custodian, and science teacher communicated that they were specialists, not generalists. Likewise, the grade a pupil was in further fragmented the student body. In the one-room country school, the fifth and sixth graders frequently functioned as one class, but in high school, many of the seniors never bothered to learn to identify all the freshmen and sophomores correctly by name.
The village high school of 1940 operated with a radically different rule book from the one that was used in the one-room rural school of that day.
That design of the public school system in rural and small-town America was mirrored by much of American Protestantism. The countryside was covered with the buildings housing small congregations that averaged 7 to 40 at worship. Many were able to provide an even more supportive and reassuring social setting than were those one-room schools. They perpetuated their Western European heritage by sharpening the distinctive identity with both a denominational and a nationality image. That is a Norwegian Lutheran parish. That is a German Evangelical church. That is a Dutch Reformed congregation. That is a Swedish Methodist church. That is a Welsh Presbyterian church.
The rural and small-town social systems were designed to allow children to move out of the close intimacy of the family setting into a relatively simple and easy-to-comprehend elementary school before being challenged to master the skills required to function effectively in large groups that included more than forty people. It was not until after one's seventeenth or eighteenth birthday that a young person was expected to be comfortable in a social setting that included several hundred to a few thousand people.
Six decades after four of us eighth graders graduated from Hickory Park School, the public school district west of where we now live constructed a new building. It is designed to accommodate 800 four-year-old children in the prekindergarten program offered by that district.
Imagine the experience of a six-year-old starting first grade in a building with 20 to 30 other children, one or two of whom may be siblings, three or four relatives, and several friends or acquaintances. Compare that with the experience of the four-year-old entering for the first time into a school building filled with 799 other four-year-olds plus the scores of adult strangers required to staff that enterprise!
From the Civil War through the Great Depression, American society prepared children to learn how to live in a world of small institutions that placed a high value on intimacy, simplicity, small numbers, and mutual support. It was not until becoming a teenager that one was forced to master the skills required for life in a more anonymous, complex, and hostile social environment.
From the Civil War through the Great Depression, American society prepared children to learn how to live in a world of small institutions that placed a high value on intimacy, simplicity, small numbers, and mutual support. It was not until becoming a teenager that one was forced to master the skills required for life in a more anonymous, complex, and hostile social environment. (That generalization applied not only to the rural United States in the first half of the twentieth century, but also to many central city neighborhoods, especially those with a high level of ethnic homogeneity, that also were organized around intimacy, spontaneity, simplicity, and small private institutions [retail stores, clubs, lodges, service providers, etc.].)
That culture was comfortable with the small to middle-sized Protestant congregation averaging fewer than 135 at worship. At this point, it may be worth noting that in 1929-30, when I was a first grader, there were 150,000 one-teacher public elementary schools in the United States, down from slightly over 200,000 in 1916. By the time I graduated in 1937, that number had dropped to 125,000, and it plunged to 35,000 in 1956. Today there are fewer than 100 one-teacher public schools.
In 1930 the 262,000 public schools in the United States enrolled 26 million pupils in twelve grades, an average of 100 students per school. Seventy years later, the 80,000 public elementary and high schools in America enrolled 48 million students in grades K-12, an average of 600 per school.
Concurrently, the average (mean) size of a Protestant congregation in the United States tripled between 1906 and 1996.
As late as the 1950s and 1960s, many denominational ministerial placement systems operated on the same basic assumption. Regardless of one's age or personal history, the best entry point into the pastoral ministry was first to serve a small single-cell congregation organized around a network of one-to-one relationships, kin-folk ties, intimacy, simplicity, local traditions, a denominational identity, and the maintenance of a meeting place. That was widely perceived as a useful prerequisite to prepare a minister to move on to a large multi cell congregation filled with complexity, anonymity, and a more highly structured organizational system.
This new culture organized around big institutions is governed by a different rule book from that which was used in the old culture composed largely of small institutions.
Why write a book on the role and future of the large church? One reason is that the culture has been transformed. Instead of preparing children for life in a world of small institutions, for the past half century the American culture has been equipping people to live in a world of big institutions. This new culture organized around big institutions is governed by a different rule book from that which was used in the old culture composed largely of small institutions.
This autobiographical account illustrates the changing context for ministry as well as for public education. The educational requirements to be a public school teacher or a parish pastor are far greater today than they were in the 1930s. The support system for public schools or for the parish ministry is weaker than it once was. The era of small institutions has been replaced by a day when most of the participants are found in the big institutions. The day of the generalist has been replaced by the demand for specialists. The expectations people project on the church or the public school are far greater today than formerly. The total annual compensation for both the parish pastor and the public school teacher has increased at a faster rate than the increase in per capita income. The public schools and the parish church are faced with more competition for the loyalty of their constituents than ever before. The public schools and the churches were widely viewed as allies and potential partners in the first half of the twentieth century. By the end of the century, they often were viewed as adversaries. Both the neighborhood school and the neighborhood church have been placed on the endangered species list. In recent years, hundreds of books have been published that are highly critical of contemporary public education or of the contemporary parish ministry. The schools that train future public school teachers or future parish pastors often are the subject of condescending comments and ridicule by many professors in the elite research universities. Newspaper stories about the public schools or the Christian churches in the large central cities often make repeated use of the words failure and renewal. Service as a public school teacher or as a parish pastor, once widely perceived to be a lifelong career, often is an interlude today between graduation from a professional school and entrance into the secular labor force. The leaders in public schools and in many of the denominationally affiliated congregations feel that their work is increasingly regulated by distant bureaucrats who "do not understand what life is like here in the trenches." Both public school systems and ecclesiastical organizations offer a more attractive reward for administrators than for those who are involved firsthand in serving the constituency the organization originally was created to serve. In both vocations a common contemporary comment is, "We are no longer able to attract the high-quality candidates for our vocation that we once did." In both the public schools and the parish churches, the generations born after 1945 want a broader range of choices, and this gives an unprecedented advantage to the large institutions. In the typical community, the role of public school teacher or parish pastor does not bring with it the automatic respect and deference it once carried. Much of what volunteers did in earlier decades is now being done by paid staff.
The reader can add another dozen examples of how the societal context has changed for both the public schools and the parish ministry. In both areas of life, however, the basic point is the same. The past several decades have been marked by an unprecedented degree of discontinuity with the past. Part of that discontinuity is reflected in the new rule book on how to do church in the new millennium.
This autobiographical account also is offered to illustrate two other points. The first is the ambivalence felt by many of us who grew up in a culture dominated by small social institutions. Our hearts are with the small school, the small church, the "Mom and Pop" grocery store, the one-screen motion picture theater, the physician in solo practice working out of his house, the corner druggist, and the family farm. Our heads, however, tell us that the future is with the large complex and anonymous institutions, such as the thirty-screen motion picture theater, the medical clinic with a staff of forty or more physicians, the three-acre building housing that new home supply and hardware store, the 100,000-square-foot supermarket, and the mega church averaging over a thousand in worship every week. We are torn between what we like and what meets our needs. Earlier in life we learned how to be comfortable with the old rule book. Now we are being told we must follow a new set of rules.
Second, while the future is filled with uncertainty, most of the contemporary evidence suggests that the people born after 1965, who were socialized into adulthood in a culture dominated by big institutions, will outlive those born before 1945 who carry happy firsthand memories of a culture dominated by small institutions. In planning for the future of your congregation, do you expect most of your new members in the 2000-2020 era will be people born before 1945 or after 1965?
For those who want to be advised of the central thesis of a book before deciding whether to read it, this volume has three. One is the need for more very large congregations if the goal is to confront the generations born after 1965 with the truth and relevance of the Christian gospel. The second is that it requires an affirmation of the fact that the mega church is not simply an overgrown version of a big congregation averaging 450 to 700 at worship--it is a sharply different order of God's creation! That is why a new rule book is needed.
Third, while the first half of the twentieth century was supportive of small institutions, the early years of the third millennium provide a context that is supportive of big institutions. The most important single component of this new context often is described as consumerism. Consumerism has changed the rules of the game!
A simple way to describe this is that the small churches, those averaging fewer than a hundred at worship, play by their own rules on their distinctive playing field. Another 40-plus percent, those averaging 100 to 700 at worship, use a different rule book that is appropriate for their playing field. The 3 to 5 percent that either average 800 or more at worship or have the potential to be in that size bracket use the most recent edition of a different rule book and play on a much larger field that is not restricted by geographical boundaries.
This book was written for those congregational leaders, both volunteer and paid staff, who recognize that their old rule book is obsolete and who are eager to learn how to participate effectively in the very large church game on a playing field that is defined by the culture, the societal context, clearly defined expectations, a theological belief system, a passion for evangelism, a high level of competence, creativity, innovation, and a new and different set of rules, rather than by local traditions or geographical boundaries or yesterday's stereotypes.
The new millennium has brought a new game to town that requires the players to master a new rule book.
Copyright © 2000 by Abingdon Press