Why Do Small Class Sizes Matter?

Posted On August 24, 2021

Written by Dr. Keith Mathison, professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College

In any form of Christian education, the number of those being taught at a single time and place matters because of the very nature of Christian education. Christian education is not merely a transfer of data from the teacher’s mind to the student. If it were, reading a book by the teacher or watching a video of the teacher would be sufficient. The reason they are not sufficient is because a fundamental part of Christian education is discipleship. Discipleship requires involvement in the lives of the disciple, and that cannot happen apart from personal presence and contact.

This has a bearing on class size because teachers are finite. Teachers have a finite amount of time to devote to their students, and the more students there are, the less time there is available for each. We observe a similar principle in churches. If a single local congregation grows, it can reach a point where the ministers are unable to fulfill their duties. The Westminster Assembly addressed just such an issue in its “Form of Presbyterial Church Government.” In regard to particular congregations, they wrote:

When believers multiply to such a number, that they cannot conveniently meet in one place, it is lawful and expedient that they should be divided into distinct and fixed congregations, for the better administration of such ordinances as belong unto them, and the discharge of mutual duties.

Physical space was one consideration, but note that one of the key reasons they give for creating smaller congregations out of the one larger congregation is to enable “the discharge of mutual duties.” Discipleship is one of those mutual duties in the local church. Ministers and congregants cannot fulfill their mutual duties when a group of Christians gets so large that they don’t have time for each person. Small congregations and small class sizes matter because each individual Christian matters.

Dr. Keith Mathison is professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College.

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