Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Does Size Matter?

Written by: on February 17, 2023

Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is one of the most influential books in modern sociology.[1] Written by German sociologist Max Weber, this book examines how religious beliefs can shape economic behavior. Weber looks at how Calvinism, a branch of Protestant Christianity, encouraged what he called “the Spirit of Capitalism.” His thesis argues that an ascetic ethic associated with Calvinism became a major factor in driving capitalist development throughout Europe and North America.

The importance of the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Christian leaders cannot be overstated.  It provides insight into why some Christian denominations have been more “successful” than others when attempting to spread their faith or influence society. It also serves as an important reminder that religious beliefs can have far-reaching consequences beyond simply influencing individual morality or spirituality, they affect entire economies. Dr. Clark’s, Evangelicalism and Capitalism thesis dives into this influence further. He quotes Goldman’s Ascetic Practices in reference to Weber’s work revealing “the larger dialectic that lies within all modern practices of the self, between the obligations and restrictions of institutions and the innovation and sources of the self in resistance to these.”[2] He also points out criticisms of Weber’s ascetic method, for “bringing a secular notion of personhood, an ascetically ‘fortified self’ able to respond to the pressures of German culture and rationalization, and wrapping it within a construction of the Puritan self.”[3]

I appreciate the history of capitalism and the many perspectives from all the specialists in this area. I am certainly not a sociologist but I cannot help pointing out a correlating view to consider regarding today’s “mega-church” and smaller local bodies of 250 or less. Modern and/or mega-churches are analogous to the Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism by pure budget alone. A congregation of 500-1000+ regular members requires a significantly larger amount of operating costs compared to a congregation of 50-100 regular members. It is not always easy to decipher but growth creates and requires capital and, in many cases, enslaves a capitalistic ministry approach that generates recurring efforts. Independent of general giving, the church is a market that has many layers including contributions and fundraising, retail sales, counseling, rentals, swag, special projects, and products.

Is there a right or wrong way to push the kingdom forward? Or is the point to recognize the similarities between capitalism and Christian ethics? I wonder if smaller churches are more frugal and ascetic in nature, or do they aspire to grow significantly and do not know how?  Does the size and growth of a congregation matter at all? Are they being pushed out of the way or proudly providing a piece of the kingdom puzzle; discipling exactly where and how they ought to? I think the argument lies in the intentions, resources, talents, and efforts of the larger and smaller churches. Many small churches are akin to local hardware stores when the big box franchise comes to town (or online). Some locations continue to thrive with pride and the loyalty of the community, while other stores (churches) dwindle away, merge, and close their doors. Small flocks and ministries in many ways “compete” with “Mega-Church Madness, Non-DenoMenards, Lowe’s Lutheranism, YouTube Methods, and the Catholic Depot” gobbling up the potential tithes, support, and souls. Does the small or home church have a chance for survival or is this even a debatable competition?

I personally think the harvest is ripe and there is more than enough saving to go around. I prefer to view it from a lens that we are all on the same team in Jesus’ name, but it does not always feel like that. I have witnessed smaller flocks that push the kingdom in incredible ways and are completely content with their size, budget, and ministry efforts. I have also speculated greed in small, and large churches, and a feeling of too much “prosperity gospel” or biased messaging. In conclusion, I think the mindset and heart of the church, assuming it is Spirit led, is more relevant compared to the size of the congregation. Either way, it is my opinion that ministries are still shaped by the Spirit of Capitalism and influencing economics today. The motive is the crucial element. The heart of the individual making decisions for the church, and/or the desires of the congregation as a whole, determines the shepherding culture, obedience, and call for any flock.

There are respectable arguments for the benefits of both mega churches and small churches, but in either case, the reasoning may very well be the capitalistic mindset and/or talents of the decision-makers involved. It is important to keep our ministry blessings in check and remember that they are all His anyway. We are the branches and He is the true vine. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”[4]


[1] Gorski, Philip S. Social Forces 82, no. 2 (2003): 833–39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3598212.

[2] Goldman outlines this critique of Weber’s ascetic, in Goldman, “Ascetic Practices,” 163, found in Clark, Jason Thesis Evangelicalism and Capitalism, 96

[3] Ibid, 163/96

[4] John 15:2-4

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

8 responses to “Does Size Matter?”

  1. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Michael,

    Your blog post reminded me of Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer’s book “A Church Called Tov.” In this book, he talks about the abuses of church leadership. The final chapter, they write about how business practices and metrics have infiltrated into church leadership culture since the 1980s. With your business background and your work as an executive pastor, where do you see the benefits of business practices in the church leadership context, and what are the harms?

  2. Michael O'Neill says:

    Thanks, David. Great question. I think there needs to be both, sound business practices to keep things moving and a heart of generosity so it never becomes about the money. The day money stops becoming a tool for God’s glory, is the day it becomes a weapon for evil.

    I wasn’t trying to single out one congregation in particular, I just wanted to make the connection that we are influenced by capitalism and we can either use it to our advantage and for God or get sucked into it and even enslaved by it. Money is dangerous. I’ve never been a big fan of it. It definitely does not define “success” and the more a church or individual has, the more temptations will arise.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll check it out…

  3. Tonette Kellett says:


    Your post on sizes of churches was excellent. They are all his anyway. It doesn’t matter the size. Good point. I believe there’s room in the Kingdom for all sizes and types of churches, thankfully. Mine is a small storefront church with a large, giving heart. Thanks for the Scripture closing also. It fits well.

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, Tonette. I really believe small and large churches can make a huge impact. We have to put the right people and hearts in check and we will continue to move the Kingdom with his intentions, not ours.

  4. Kristy Newport says:

    I appreciate your question:
    Does the small or home church have a chance for survival or is this even a debatable competition?

    I would love to see a working model of small home churches thriving.

    Thank you for your thoughts

  5. Michael O'Neill says:

    Thanks, Kristy. This topic made me want to do more research. I think it relates to my NPO too and I’m very interested in the overall growth and decline of the church although I think it would be impossible to measure the total impact a church is making, it would however still be nice to learn more based on metrics that can be observed.

  6. Alana Hayes says:

    Michael I really appreciated your blog and many items that made me sit and pause… I particularly stopped here:
    “Does the small or home church have a chance for survival or is this even a debatable competition?”

    What strategies can they use to survive, if any?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Authenticity is the key to survival. People are too smart, have low patience, tons of competition, and selfish intentions for the most part. The small church must connect with its people. Understand it’s mission. And disciple with authority. God will do the rest and fill in the blanks…

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