Monday, August 27, 2007

The Joy of Mini-Church: Part 4

Nickles and noses. Not!

How do you measure a "successful" church? Budgets and buildings and bodies? I read somewhere that when you measure a church by personal relationships, the small church is the best expression of the Christian faith. When we think that a Sunday event is the marker of success, then personal relationships take a much lower rank on the priority list. Many people filter in and out of "big" churches and nobody knows their name. So with the dawn of the 1980s, "small groups" became the mantra of big churches. One illustration I saw at a "church growth" conference was a picture of an elephant made up of a collection of mice. Big church made of small groups. Nice. Whoopee.

Love is never anonymous. Love has named, personal interaction all over it. The Trinity is love according to the Apostle John. Yet, this love never came from a distance, from a platform up front through a well-crafted monologue. Love had a face and a name, touching hands, dusty feet, both a tender and turbulent voice, and an engagement with the best and worst of humanity. Small churches are about named people who are deeply committed to loving God and loving others. The love is not a succinct leaflet or an iPod message or a stunning foyer with a Starbucks in the corner. The love is a smile and handshake, a listening ear, a reaching in the pocket and money given without having to go through "the proper budgetary channels." It seems that small churches are just the right size for loving God and loving your neighbor. I read somewhere, "Small congregations are the right size to be all that God calls a church to be."

I think a church is too large when its size distracts us from practical, nitty gritty love. When all the energies are directed into "growing" rather than into "loving," the church has become an idol. Jesus did not say, "The world will know that you are My disciples by the massive people- warehouses you build and call churches."

Can large churches really love God and love people? Of course! But they have to overcome so many obstacles (or, as in the movie O, Brother Where Art Thou "Ob-STACK-als") that simply don't exist in the smaller churches.

Here's an insider note, a myth-buster. Conventional, big church wisdom says that in a small church the pastor does everything. He or she has to. Pastor is the hired gun; the paid professional. It's simply not true. In my small church I am not frantic to "mobilize the laity." I'm trying to keep up with them! They are loving God, loving each other and their neighbors. My challenge now is to take all that loving and help shape it into some corporate---"let's do these things together"---strategies.

I hope you ponder this particular joy of the small church.

NOTE: Les Puryear visited and commented. You talk about some good stuff about mini-church! Click here www.lesliepuryear.blogspot.com

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12 Comments:

At 8/27/2007 7:40 AM, Blogger Bob said...

Good stuff, John. The unfortunate stereotype of the small church is a bunch of gossiping, inwardly focused, small-minded folks. Like you, I've found just the opposite to be true. For example, we have a woman (a more or less retired nurse) whose ministry (among many others) is to visit our elderly members and clip their toenails. She'd been doing that for years before I found out about quite by accident. Talk about a servant-heart!

 
At 8/27/2007 8:06 AM, Anonymous Jay Piper said...

I'm blown away when I look around and see what's going on in our mini-church. I agree with Bob's response; I'm not seeing the small-minded gossiping group at our church. I see loving people looking for those who need their love.

 
At 8/27/2007 8:53 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Bob,
That's it---the Great Commandment being lived out in the particulars of ordinary people's lives. Thanks for sharing the story.

 
At 8/27/2007 8:54 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

jay,
I agree. The challenge for the pastors is to shape *corporate* expressions of practical love.

 
At 8/27/2007 9:27 AM, Blogger Les Puryear said...

John,

I am truly enjoying this series on the small church. Good insights.

Les

 
At 8/27/2007 9:47 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Les,
I clicked on your name and it took me over to your web site. You've got some goooooood stuff there about the strengths of small church ministry. I may "borrow" some of your ideas.
Thanks, brother, for visiting Jesus the Radical Pastor.

 
At 8/27/2007 8:45 PM, Blogger carl said...

I'm liking this series of posts. I am a part of a small church family so I can relate.

 
At 8/28/2007 4:26 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Carl,
Thanks for the kind words. I am glad you're liking the series.

 
At 9/04/2007 3:08 PM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

John, I think when people are willing to be commmitted to a smaller group, it is an indication that they are more open to real love relationship and fellowship as you so wonderfully state here.

And with that comes so much of the life in Jesus we're to live, a life together in the Lord, even our times alone and away with God by ourselves meant to impact that, and vice-versa.

 
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