NB: Part One Here
While I think that much of what Paul wrote about house churches was DEscriptive rather than PREscriptive (meaning that he was describing what was happening among believers rather than prescribing the way churches were to organize themselves), such organization got me thinking about the value and virtue of smaller expressions of Christianity.
I think our how we organize ourselves tells us and the world who we think God is, and what God values.
But if we say we follow the poor, wandering, preacher from the outback, than how would our churches reflect what we say we believe? Jesus’ preached the Kingdom of God (or in Matthew’s case, Kingdom of Heaven, not a pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, but a living reality of God’s active presence in the world), and he always used small examples to describe it: mustard seed, treasure hidden in a field, yeast, a net.
Jesus never talked about the Kingdom of God in big, grand, terms. He always talked in small, personal, concrete yet crazy ways to describe what God was up to.
I think that’s because Jesus knew that God’s isn’t interested in grandiose, ostentatious, displays of power. If you want to see what God is doing don’t look at the grand gestures of history. Ignore what you see on the news. Stay away from Parliament. Drive past Bay Street.
But look for God’s power in weakness, lurking in the dark corners of our world, beneath the radar, away from TV lights. Look for God in the unwed, pregnant teenager, the nation in exile, the crucified saviour, and the small gathering. There you’ll see God doing something.
I think, as Christians, we often forget where God is. We like to build BIG because we confuse the western culture’s idea of success with God’s. We think our goal as a church is to get BIG, and the BIGGER we are the more successful, and faithful we believe we are.
But while numbers tell us some things, they don’t tell us everything. They aren’t necessarily a measure of faithfulness, of love for neighbour and enemy, of peacemaking, of care for the world.
I think smaller churches build stronger followers of Jesus. Research backs this up (when I find the stats I’ll post them). There’s less room to hide in smaller churches, deeper relationships are more easily formed, and accountability is more easily created.
Smaller churches are more effective in evangelism and mission, in terms of ratio of baptisms to membership. Smaller churches grow faster, percentage wise, then large churches.
Smaller churches – house churches in particular, have less overhead costs. No building to maintain, fewer, if any salaries to distribute, leaving more money available for mission.
Of course, this does NOT mean that having a small church is the goal. I strongly believe that churches need to grow and reproduce – make disciples of Jesus.
But I worry that when we try to become BIG rather than strong, we get sucked into the institutional vortex and creativity gets squashed in fear of upsetting too many people. And upset people don’t put as much in the offering plate.
Maybe my biggest fear is that money become the goal, money to maintain what we have, rather than serving the world in mission.
End of Part Two. Part Three Coming.