As I said before this blog may contain some personal reflections but will also be a large amount of theology. I feel that Christianity has gone away from the history, culture, and deep study on the Word and the deeper mysteries of our faith. As such here is my first blog, it is one of my sermons entitled “Oh ye few but faithful” it examines the trend towards these mega churches which is fine but also the benefit and blessing of the smaller churches. My picture there is of a small outback church north of here which is a lifeline to that community. It is important to remember, the first churches were very small and the first band of the followers of Christ were only 12.
“OH YE FEW BUT FAITHFUL”
Some scriptures for thought: John 20:19-29
I grew up in a church and it had a small youth group, and a small congregation but a large hearted one. My brother had joined a church in Canada with 1500 people, which blew my mind. To an energetic young person, my little church seemed dull and uneventful. But I think back now and some of my best memories were of that little church. In fact my entire family can trace their salvation to that church. That small congregation will receive their just reward for their dedication in planting a seed. Then I began to think of how in the Bible there are very few examples of large, spectacular displays of God’s power through armies of holy soldiers, or countless worshipers that experience the miracles. It’s the exact opposite. The Alpha and the Omega, Living God, Father Almighty, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, shows us that big miracles occur in the smallest groups.
In this day and age it seems a congregation’s fruitfulness is judged by its size. We have churches such as Hillsong that boasts members in the thousands. A church in Bogotá Columbia claims 40000 members! And of course we know of the church in Korea with 4 million members nationwide. Christ never saw those numbers! The highest we have that He saw was 5000 people and that number had been confirmed by historians. We live in a day and age where churches too small are closed and the congregations merged, moved, or disbanded. The buildings are sold and become homes, restaurants, and mosques, abandoned, or destroyed. Certain church denominational leadership councils actually has set criteria to assess the financial feasibility of a church.
But that is interesting…see it seems to me that the most profound moments with Christ came with only a few people surrounding Him. Consider some of the following. His birth-no more than 10 people are considered to be there. If you have seen the Church of the Nativity where it is believed Christ was born only two people can fit into the cave at a time that marks His birth spot. There in the smelliest, dirtiest location draped in obscurity a few were blessed in a way beyond understanding. Christ only surrounded Himself with a few in His life. Yes, He spoke to large crowds but He felt most at peace when he was with His small entourage-the 12, the women, the children. Most of Christ’s healing miracles were 1-2 people, yes there were witnesses there but He never said to an entire crowd, “ok guys, you crowd of 20 000 or so, you’re healed and you other 5000 your sins are forgiven!” It was always a personal experience because he knew that was a more effective witness. Some of His other miracles include the quieting of the storm, just a few there. How can we forget the Transfiguration? Again only for a select few. Unfortunately He even died with just a few around… But when the miracle of his Resurrection came He appeared to only a few at first then to the 12, keeping it to the few and faithful.
Christ said “where 2 or more are gathered in my name I am there.” He lists such small numbers because it promotes intimacy, individualism, and importance of the individual. I want to stay focussed on these miracles. Some of the greatest miracles in the Christian church come from the underground churches in China. Small, unknown communities of believers no bigger than a handful of Christians meet, pray, and face persecution armed with nothing but their faith. In this case smaller churches are essential for survival.
It seems now more than ever Christianity in many countries is dwindling. Christianity is the world’s largest religion but statistics show only 40% are actually “practising”. Islam is now the fastest growing religion, why is this changing? It comes back to the intimacy and closeness of fellowship. People crave that and in absence of True Water they would be willing to drink the sand of the dessert because they may not even know the difference. The early church was very small, for example how it started in the reading of Acts today. It was almost non-existent. Then there was an explosion which changed the world. We mark this as Pentecost.
The largest miracle revivals will always and must always come from near failure. The condition for a good miracle is improbability and the condition for a great, awesome miracle is impossibility! Christian history is splashed with stories of spiritual hibernation and then a revival is brought to an area by the Holy Spirit. Some of the more notable ones are:
• The Reformation
• Radical Reformation
• The great Awakening
• The Second great Awakening
• The 18th and 19th century revivals in Europe (i.e. Methodist)
God does not condemn large churches but He also goes for the smaller crowd as did His Son. It is hard to be involved in the family of God when that family has 15000 members in a building. I find Christ personally in the church that has a burnt out building as shelter located in the heart of an inner city. I see Christ in the country parish fighting to keep the town it has been intertwined with from drying up due to lack of jobs. And I see Christ in here. In your love for each other, in your love for one another, and in His Holy Word.
Many of the great giants of faith started in smaller congregations, men such as Dwight L Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, Padre MacKenzie, Jonathan Edwards, Christmas Evans and more. No my friends, huge churches are fine but I think in a church like that we run the risk of losing the fellowship that comes from Bible studies, small groups, cell groups, and our close Christian family. Let’s pray that there is always room and blessings for both churches, great and small.