Saturday, January 21, 2012

How Big Is Too Big?

Church size is an interesting issue. We’ve had some good discussions about this previously on this blog. I’d like to revisit the issue because of a real-life situation my church family finds itself in.

Last week we had 39 people at our church gathering. That’s a lot of folks to fit in a living room. It was wonderful to spend time with everyone, but I wonder if we’ve gotten too big. In fact, one of my good friends brought up the very issue as we met. We’ve decided to pray about it and not make any hasty decisions. However, we’ve sort of been avoiding the issue for some time. That’s not to say that we have to or even need to multiply/divide/split in some way; rather, we simply haven’t really talked about it.

This question, of course, immediately leads us to scripture and forces us to ask why we even meet in the first place. Ideally, Christians get together throughout the week so that the Sunday gathering is not the epicenter of church life. Despite this, with work schedules being what they are the reality is that the Sunday gathering is very special. That said, why do we meet?

Biblically speaking, followers of Christ normally gather to honor God through mutual edification. This is not to say that every gathering must be for this purpose. Rather, this ought to be the norm.

We’re all familiar with Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I believe the most significant aspect of these verses is that they tie together the assembling with meeting for the purpose of edification.

In order for edification of all by all to take place, everyone must feel free to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. This usually involves at least talking to others. In fact, edification almost always involves speaking of some type (along with other things).

A body of believers should, therefore, be a size that is conducive to people talking with one another. If the group is too large for this to happen, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Last week as we gathered, I noticed times of freedom in speech. I also noticed times when only some seemed comfortable talking. Not surprisingly, the differences depended on the structure of what was happening. When we were all sitting together sharing with one another as a full body, the group just felt too big for everyone to share. In fact, although we had solid participation, many of the folks didn’t say anything at all. However, when we were all just hanging out in smaller groups (ranging in size from roughly 2 – 8), everyone appeared comfortable talking.

Our group’s size has also reduced the number of homes we can gather in. For example, our family simply cannot host anymore on Sundays. Because of my current work schedule (65 hrs. per week), it is very difficult to have anyone over during the week. Therefore, we aren’t really hosting anyone right now. I wish that could be different. As for Sundays, only a few families are now able to host; this puts an unfair burden on them.

Have we as a body reached the point of being too big? I’m still not sure. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue. Additionally, I’d appreciate hearing about if you have gone through a church division (in the good sense), how it happened, and what the result was.

8 comments:

From the Wilderness... said...

Hi Eric,
I haven't read or commented on here in a while, but this post raises a valid thought. I was in a house church group a while back that just made it a plan to divide into a new one when the numbers regularly topped 30 in 1 group. That model seems to be working very well for them. While I was there (a period of about 5 months) they had to do this very thing. People came into the group with the foreknowledge that they would probably at one point need to change groups for the greater good. Personally, I start to feel much less connected and engaged when a small group exceeds 12-15 people. Just my 2 cents. :)

Seth

Eric said...

Seth,

Thanks for responding. Having a plan in mind, like the one you have mentioned, seems like a excellent idea. That way everyone is prepared for it, anticipating, it, and is thinking ahead.

How did the group you mention actually go about the split? How did they decide who goes where, etc.?

Seth said...

Eric, they mostly looked at location. Spending time with fellow Christians during the week is much easier when they are 10-15 minutes away instead of 30-45. I think they mainly looked at where people were bunched together, but they probably also looked at where people had houses to host and where there were some leadership oriented men. If it didn't fit perfectly, they may have asked someone to volunteer or something like that. Not totally sure. This was the group we had to leave because of the membership stuff, but I really liked how they handled growth this way.

Eric said...

Seth,

Thanks. That helps me as I think through this process. I agree that proximity is important. Unfortunately for our group, we are pretty spread out geographically.

Al Shaw said...

I agree very much with your linking of meeting and mutual encouragement/edification. That being the case, if we look at the range of things that could happen next in your church, that may help to focus minds. The possibilities seem to be:

1) the group remains around its new larger size, with the disadvantages you have outlined. These will act as a "natural" inhibitor of further numerical growth, for practical reasons as much as anything else.

2) the challenges outlined will lead to people leaving, thus reducing the immediate challenges, but leaving the fundamental questions you are asking about growth/size unanswered.

3) you will transition into a church that operates (in its Sunday meetings at least) in a way that resembles many other churches - with "services" replacing "meatings".

4) you will "split" the group into two or more smaller groups and try to replicate what you have experienced so far.

5) you will intentionally start to dream, pray and prepare, for a long-term process of multiple future church planting.


I know which option would excite me the most.

Eric said...

Al,

Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate them very much.

We have reached a point where will will divide in order to grow or we will become stunted. The hard part now is figuring out how to actually go about it. It's fascinating to me that scripture does not address this issue directly. Praise God that we have the Holy Spirit to direct us.

Alan Knox said...

Al,

I'd love to hear some examples of the outcome of #5 and how it differs from #4.

-Alan

Al Shaw said...

Hi Alan,

Many groups respond to numerical growth by spliting, dividing or multiplying (option 4). Biological cell concepts are often employed to explain or in some cases justify this course of action.

In fact, such an action can be a mixed blessing, with long-term relaionships sometimes severed or at least placed under strain.

Option 5 takes a more intentional, long-term view, rather than just responding to the immediate lack of space in a home.

In fact, rather than abuse Eric's bandwith hospitality, I'll jot down some examples of option 5 over on my blog.

Thanks!