Eight Keys To Building Community In A Large Church

In this article, Jon Elmer, Pastor of the Syracuse Vineyard in Syracuse, NY, shares eight ways to cultivate community within a large church.

John Elmer

Regional Leader, Eastern Region, Vineyard USA

As the planting pastor of a large church, I get a little frustrated when I hear people imply that large churches are cold and lacking in community, while small churches are warm congregations full of great community.

The truth is community, or the lack thereof, comes in all sizes!

At the Syracuse Vineyard we have worked hard at developing a sense of family and community.  We realize that people are made for community and grow best in healthy relationships.  Below are some of the ways we do this:

1. It starts with the staff!

The pastoral staff sets the tone for the church as a whole.  If there is a warmth between them, it will radiate to the wider church.  To help foster that, we do monthly lunches together as well as a couple of holiday parties, and many of the staff organically hang out on their own.

2. The pastoral staff works hard at remembering everyone’s names.

People love to be greeted by name.  How do we do this in a large church?  We have set up a system to capture people’s pictures and names.  We encourage new people to come to a monthly “Newcomer’s Pizza” and take their picture there.  My goal is to have every name and face from the Pizza memorized by the next week.

3. Create some fun at every gathering.

Healthy families laugh together.  People who laugh together relax and bond in a deeper way.  Think of ways to create fun in your weekend services, small groups and leadership meetings.

4. Break out the food!

Community grows around the dinner table.  We have free coffee, donuts and fruit available in our lobby before every service, which encourages people to come early to hang out.  At our Saturday night service, we have a light meal available.  During the summer, we have a free cookout before some of our services.

5. Create a lobby that is comfortable.

Creating space for people to hang out will foster community.  We have designed our lobby with a coffee house feel and made sure there is a lot of space and different types of seating.  We also put benches outside for smokers and picnic tables in our kids’ playground.

6. Create an honest atmosphere.

Relationships grow deeper when people can be real.  Make it safe and grace-filled.  Model transparency in your messages.

7. More services, more community.

We made a commitment early on to offer multiple services over the course of the weekend.  Now we have 10 services a weekend across our four sites for an average weekend attendance of 1500 people.  Creative use of “pipe and drape,” can make a room feel comfortable and full for different sized services.   I like to say we are a church of 200 for 1500 people.

8. Have thriving small groups.

If you want community, it is essential to get people out of rows and into circles.  Small groups do that by allowing people to build significant relational depth.  A key is to have small group “on ramps” that are offered frequently and easy to join.

Large churches can have a deep sense of community. Be creative with ways you open up opportunities for people to connect with one another and it will change people’s lives while shrinking the “back door.”


To learn more about the Syracuse Vineyard in Syracuse, NY, with multi-sites in Auburn, Cicero, and Wescott, visit their website here.