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The Editorial

Let’s get bigger?

We were away looking after a small church for a couple of weeks.

John Benton, Editor

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It enabled the pastor and his wife to take a holiday. There we met a great Christian couple who had experienced tough things in their lives, been part of a number of larger congregations and had now joined the little church. The wife said: ‘The trouble is, when you go along to larger churches they tend to deal with you as a category – a young person, a senior, a single, a young married, with or without children, etc. – but overlook you as an individual. O the joy of coming to a little church and being treated as a person again!’

Growing churches

Every Christian should want to see churches grow. But these remarks indicate that perhaps a church can grow too large and become a bit of a machine, rather than a family. It’s all about necessary efficiency rather than people. So, though we want to see churches grow (by conversions by the way, not simply by taking Christians from other churches), perhaps we need to contemplate the idea that once we reach a certain size it really is time to step out in faith, make the sacrifice of dividing and plant a new church or revitalise another needy congregation. We want not only to spread the kingdom, but also to preserve the family nature of God’s household (1 Timothy 3.15).

A friend pointed out to me a clip on YouTube from Francis Chan. He is a pastor who started a church in California which grew to around 5,000 people. The ten-minute interview with him is entitled ‘Why I left the mega church I created’. It is worth watching. You might not agree with everything he says, but he provides some compelling arguments for house churches and keeping congregations at a family size.

To think about

Chan looked out at 5,000 faces each Sunday and knowing that, according to Scripture, each one was gifted by the Holy Spirit, he wondered whether the big church structure actually impeded the potential use of those gifts. He wondered how much the church cost to run and couldn’t church basically be done for free. He wondered how Christ’s great command to love one another (John 13.34) was actually being worked out. Yes, there were small groups, but isn’t the church as a whole meant to be a body?

Three things he said particularly resonated. First, he spoke of a young man from a city gang becoming a Christian. But, not long after, he drifted away from church. Chan asked what had happened. The reply shocked him: ‘When I was baptised I thought I was being initiated into a 24/7 family gang with Christians sharing their lives with each other. But what I actually found was really all about Sundays and meetings and not much else.’ Mortified, Chan realized that in fact the camaraderie this young man had found in the gangs was a better picture of family than the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, small church can be hard, but large churches struggle with authenticity. Sundays are rather like Facebook, says Chan, where you put up only your best photos. Third, as Chan moved to promoting smaller, family churches, he says his people said it was like the joy of moving from an orphanage to being adopted by a family (the storyline of Oliver Twist or the musical Annie). The big church was trying to look after people, which is good, but on a large scale and so dominated by organisation. Food for thought?