Dunbar’s Number goes to Church: The Social Brain Hypothesis as a third strand in the study of church growth
Bretherton R., Dunbar RIM.
© The Author(s) 2020. The study of church growth has historically been divided into two strands of research: the Church Growth Movement and the Social Science approach. This article argues that Dunbar’s Social Brain Hypothesis represents a legitimate and fruitful third strand in the study of church growth, sharing features of both previous strands but identical with neither. We argue that five predictions derived from the Social Brain Hypothesis are accurately borne out in the empirical and practical church growth literature: that larger congregations lead to lower active engagement from members; that single-leader congregations are limited to around 150 members; that congregations of 150 are further stratified into smaller functioning groups; that congregations expanding beyond 150 members undergo internal tensions and are forced to reorganise; and that congregations larger than 150 will require structural sub-divisions to retain active member involvement. While these assertions are reflected in the church growth literature and articulate the common sense assumptions of church growth experts, the Social Brain Hypothesis offers a coherent theoretical framework which unifies these observations and thereby represents a distinctive contribution to church growth studies.