what’s the magic number?

If we take the lyrics of a popular song then the answer is 3, which is echoed as a pretty decent answer if you consider the trinity of Father, Son and Spirit.

Mathematically, 8 is pretty special – the number 8 is involved with a number of interesting mathematical phenomena related to the notion of Bott periodicity.

Some would say 12 – the number of disciples, months of the year, signs of the zodiac and the highest number with one syllable.

Biblically one could argue that 40 has a right of place in a list of important numbers…

If you’re in to group dynamics then you may have heard of Dunbar’s number. Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 230, with a commonly used value of 150. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number

Perhaps this is why ‘Path’ a new app to keep in touch with family and friends has chosen 150 as the maximum number of contacts you can have? Path is the personal network where you connect with family and close friends. By limiting you to 150 connections, Path is a safe and trusted place to share the moments that matter with the people who matter most. With a focus on beautiful design and responsiveness, Path is 5-star rated and loved by millions of users. Easily capture and apply lenses to high quality photos and videos, check in to places with friends, share your thoughts, and interact with people you truly care about – all through a fast and seamless interface. One button to share content, one feed to see all your friends’ activity. And for those of you who like to share on public networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare, you can easily check in, upload photos and videos, blog, and tweet directly from Path. (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/path/id403639508?mt=8

So, what is the magic number of people you should have in a church (or possibly a congregation if you have a leadership who are absolutely super duper and can oversee more than one)? I guess 150 if everyone is going to know each other and if you don’t want to have to implement restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group which I’m going to suggest is one of the key reasons there is a lack of creativity in larger churches.

But what do you do when a group gets too much bigger than 150? If you are a fan of cell group theory than you know that you have to multiply. This tends to cause much heart ache with members of your cell but on the plus side provides opportunities for new leadership and creativity.

All in all, I’m not sure what the magic number is but i’m still not a fan of mega church.


  1. So, how does the number game work in a five church benefice (soon to be 9)? With one priest and a travelling ministry team. We have about 330 across the five churches increasing to around 850 when the other join. Than there are the eight villages, with populations ranging from the several hundreds to the two thousands.

    I can’t see the optimum number there. Clergy minister across the whole community, not just those in church, and I would argue that it’s the ones not in church or members of other denominations that are the more important part of the Clergy presence and Public Ministry.

    I travel to from Church to Church involved in Lay Ministry, and get to know a proportion of people in each village through this, but many I know by sight, I have yet to remember their names (poor I know, and something I’m working on) but the numbers are overwhelming.

    So, perhaps the 150 contacts might be about the amount that I can handle, I wonder how many Clergy have to handle, as they have no choice in their contacts?

    Just a thought!

    1. Great comment, thanks.

      My initial thought is that a 9 parish benefice is not in fact a benefice but a deanery in itself. You may as well make the vicar area dean and they could be like judge dread – judge, jury and executioner…

      I do wonder whether the care clergy can offer in a large parish is very practical? At least you have a supporting team which is more than some places.

      Are they going to close any of the 9?!

      Thanks again for your comments.


  2. No, they won’t be closing any. We have a house for duty in place in those joining us, which is fine and she is brilliant, but mutual cover is an issue. We are lucky to have retired priests who can fill in and being in or near Canterbury there are always clergy at diocese, the cathedral or Christ Church uni who will help out at a push. But it’s the day to day stuff, Pastoral Care, meetings, Schools 4 care homes and the hurly burly of life that causes the pressures.

    Our ministry team are going on a one day study on discipleship in October where we hope to iron out some of the creases.

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