(Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA)
Visitor Question: Hi, I am curious as to how many people can attend a residential fellowship. There are no monetary offerings, but we do host a church service out of our home. We are located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and currently have a routine group of followers (around 20) attend our home every Sunday Morning (for around 3-4 hours) for a church service. Thanks!
Editors Reply: Individual zoning ordinances can vary considerably from city to city. So the best answer to this type of question is always to suggest a visit to city hall to request a copy of the zoning ordinance. Or you may lucky enough to have the Sioux Falls code of ordinances online.
However, with those cautions out of the way, we can say that none of us have read a zoning ordinance that restricts the number of worshippers. In general, if it legal for you to have a Sunday church service in your home, it will be just as legal if you have 60 people as 20.
So the first step is to make sure that the church service is legal and allowed under the zoning ordinance and any conditional use permit you may have been granted for this use.
If all is well there, probably there is no legal limit to the number of worshippers.
On the other hand, we usually caution congregations to make sure they are not making more enemies than friends if you start to have a very large gathering, which would be more people than would attend a large family Sunday dinner.
For one thing, parking in a residential neighborhood starts to be a problem when more than five or six cars are present. Taking up all of the on-street parking is a guaranteed way to make your neighbors upset and less likely to participate in your worship. Of course, the physical arrangement of the lots and homes probably will dictate how inconvenient parking would become for your neighbors.
Noise is a further consideration for the large house church. If there is loud singing and loud instrumentation, you might annoy the neighbors every time the door is opened. Again, do you want to make friends or enemies in your neighborhood?
We don't think that the absence of offerings changes anything with regard to our advice here.
Courts are fairly lenient toward churches, although that varies considerably from state to state. In New York, for example, congregations have leeway to undertake almost any activity as long as it is reasonably connected to their mission. This returns us to our original point, which is that a large gathering is as likely to be legal as a small one.
But of course you have to check your local zoning ordinance to see if they have inserted any modifying language when they identify a place of worship as a permitted use in your particular zoning district.
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