Dunbar’s Number

A post on Cosmic Variance that discusses the upcoming Super Tuesday primary mentions the concept of Dunbar’s Number in passing.

From the Wikipedia definition:

“Dunbar’s number, which is very approximately 150, represents a theorized cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships, the kind of relationships that go with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person. Group sizes larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced policies and regulations to maintain a stable cohesion. Dunbar’s number is a significant value in sociology and anthropology. It was proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that ‘this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.’”

I note that the upper edge of a pastoral-style congregation’s weekly attendance is around 150 as well. I’m guessing that there’s a correlation. The leadership style in a pastoral congregation is based on the individual member’s relationship with the pastor of the congregation. As churches grow, that model changes, and the changes begin to really pinch as ASA (average Sunday attendance) climbs past 150. Now I have a name for that effect I guess.

Read the original post here.

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

2 thoughts on “Dunbar’s Number”

  1. A lot of pastors I know from churches in my denomination (FGBC) say that they cannot handle more than 100 to 150 people people without pastoral help. I can understand that. In college I was acquainted with 1500 people over four years, but I only really knew what was going on with about 100 at any time. And I’m also glad I now have a name for it 🙂

  2. I would say that 150 is the top limit for one pastor. Some are made to hadle the limit and some are made to be more intimate with fewer while others can manage larger numbers usually with help. I would like to see the church affirm all styles of leadership. Church growing in numbers remains a mystery. I think so because as it says in Acts The Lord added to their numbers. As we are faithful to christ and embrace our particular style God indeed does grow the church. If we remember that God is the faithful actor and we are the faitful responders we have a better opportunity to have, if not a larger church, a healthy one.

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