How Many People Can a Pastor Pastor?

One of the most important things I do as the pastor of Kessler Park UMC is give pastoral care to members of the congregation. This involves a range of activities, including praying for people in the hospital, visiting shut-ins, and talking to people who are in various stages of distress.

But pastoral care requires physical presence. The problem is that as a congregation grows in size, it becomes more and more difficult for one person to be present for every member. I can’t get everywhere I need to be in order to do all the pastoral care that needs to be done.

I discovered recently that this a simple scientific fact. In the 1990s, a British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar discovered that “human societies contain buried within them a natural grouping of around 150 people.” This became known as “Dunbar’s number,” and led to his theory that this is the maximum number of stable social relationships which one person can maintain. Or put another way, “it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them at a bar.”

In other words, the average pastor can only really have a strong pastoral relationship with about 150 people!

This finding sounds remarkably similar to the common church leadership maxim that congregations typically plateau at 200 members if there is only one pastor. “It’s simply impossible for a church to grow beyond 200 under one person’s direct care and leadership,” says one prominent church consultant.

Kessler Park UMC currently finds itself in that situation. We average far less than 200 in worship attendance on Sunday mornings, but the current number of people who attend somewhat regularly is close to 200, if not more. (We currently have 500 people on the membership roll, but are desperately in need of purging these rolls.)

Since I have been here, I have dreamed of having additional staff to assist with pastoral care, and thanks to a successful pledge campaign last fall, my dream is finally coming true!

Ken Kelley.jpg

It gives me great pleasure to announce that our new Pastor of Congregational Care starts this Sunday, Feb. 19. Ken Kelley will be commissioned in the worship service to fill this position, and I can’t wait!

The truth is that Ken is already providing pastoral care for members of the church. I happen to know that he regularly visits a number of our shut-ins, and even provides transportation for some of them. He and Colleen started worship services at a local nursing home, The Meridian, shortly after I arrived. And the two of them are responsible for Good Shepherds, a twice-monthly senior group which meets at the church.

I have observed the way he works with older adults, and I can tell that he is the perfect match for this job. He has a compassionate heart, and a willingness to learn and grow. Besides, he won’t have to learn anybody’s name, because he already knows them all!

Please join me in giving Ken a warm welcome to the church staff, and add him to your own personal prayer list. And go ahead and add him to your own list of 150 friends!