In the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports on a Bible study in California that was fined for breaking a city ordinance against gathering more than three persons in a private home:
What counts as a church? Chuck and Stephanie Fromm recently found out.
After hosting several periodic Bible studies for up to 50 people in their home in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., the Fromms were fined $300 for violating a city ordinance that prohibits groups of three or more people from gathering without a permit. The couple appealed and city officials agreed last month to reimburse them and re-examine the ordinance, but the case created a stir in religious circles.
“It struck a deep nerve. Bible studies in people’s homes have been a long part of American culture and heritage,” says Brad Dacus of the Pacific Research Institute, which took on the Fromms’ case. “We’re concerned that other cities will try to get away with the same thing.”
Megachurches often dominate the news, but most religious institutions in America are small. The median church size is 75 regular participants on Sunday mornings, according to the 2009 National Congregations Study, which also found that about 60% of churches have an attendance between seven and 99 people. Just 0.4% of churches have more than 2,000 attendees, falling into the megachurch category.