Critical mass refers to the number of people necessary at an event in order for the attendees to feel like there are “enough” people there.
Without critical mass, the people in attendance will feel like the church isn’t exciting and that its not worth their time and effort. Lack of critical mass kills momentum. A reoccurring event without critical mass will demoralize the participants and eventually fizzle out.
Normally, critical mass is only discussed within the context of launching weekly worship services. It is vital to realize, however, that critical mass is important in EVERY step of the church planting process. Church planters who go in thinking they need to have a series of growing events with lots of people present at each one will develop a meth habit. If every single event you plan doesn’t reach critical mass, you will ride an emotional roller coaster as your church plant momentum plummets and rises depending on the event attendance.
Never schedule an event (dinner, launch meeting, Bible study, ministry planning meeting, worship service, etc.) unless you are sure that you will have critical mass at that event. If you schedule an event and don’t have critical mass, it will hurt your momentum, and church plants can’t afford to lose much momentum. You can recover from not having critical mass at events early in your plant, but it is difficult and unnecessary.
So how do you determine critical mass, and how do you make sure you will have it?
Obviously, critical mas differs depending on the event. In most places in America, critical mass for a worship service is probably around 100 people. Critical mass for a small group or Bible study is probably 6-10 people. Critical mass for a dinner party is probably 6-10, as well.
This doesn’t mean that if you invite 6-10 people to a small group that you will reach critical mass! Only half of the people you invite will show up, so you to invite TWICE whatever critical mass is to ensure that you will attain it.
How do you grow enough in the early stages to gain critical mass?
One on one meetings with lots of different people. Meet one on one with people who are interested in the church until you develop critical mass for a dinner event, launch team meeting, etc. Or, host one person or one couple at a time in your home for dinner. Keep meeting one on one until they are committed to the launch team.
Once you have 20 committed people through one on one meetings, then you can schedule an event and plan on 10 people showing up.
If you recently held an event that did not reach critical mass, explain to every person in attendance why it didn’t . Be specific- “X people were out of town, X people were sick, X people had a prior commitment,” etc. Otherwise, the people in attendance will just assume that the church is not worth being a part of.
Get off the emotional roller coaster, and make sure you will have critical mass at every event you plan… or don’t schedule it yet.
Also read “Two Essentials for Church Planting“
I’m currently in the process of planting One Church in Chandler, AZ (onechurch.com). There are plenty of how-to church planting books, online resources and conferences. I wanted to share specific tips from my experience that church planters need to know that are often not included in other resources. Hope this helps.