Question #9: What’s your view on the Church? I don’t hear you talk about Church much.

Unfortunately the word “church” is much like the word “Christian.” It’s been so misused that it has little power.

The word church in the bible is used in two senses. A local “church” and the universal “church” which is all who believe in a follow Jesus.

The Big C Church is interesting.  Anyone who is part of the family of God is “in” this Church.  From New Testament scripture we understand that anyone who has said a “yes” of faith to Jesus as his Master and Rescuer, is part of this new adopted family of God.  So there are all kids of folks in this Church. Protestants and Catholics. Orthodox and Pentecostals. And others who have believed from Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or other religious backgrounds. We don’t know everyone who is “in” this Big C Church.  Makes it kinda fun….  (This Big C Church is what Jesus established – it’s his).

I think most would agree with the above paragraph. Not too much controversy there.

The little c “church” is a bit harder to define. It’s what we usually refer to as “church.” They are localized gatherings of people in a given area made up of the Big C Church.  Anyone is welcome to attend these churches, but the backbone are the believers.

They often meet at least weekly.  They have some type of recognized leadership.  (People called and gifted by God to teach and train the people in the little c church).

They vary in size from a handful to 10’s of thousands.  The Apostle Paul gave a bunch of instructions to these little c gatherings in his letters to the churches.

Where we get confused is threefold:

  1. We keep thinking of church as a place or event. We say things as we drive to lunch on Sunday like:  “So…what you’d think of church today?”  Or “What’s the name of your church, we might attend. We heard the pastor is a good speaker.”  This is a linguistic problem because the word “church” has become a noun.
  2. We focus on form over function.  If you have a building with a sign and you call it a church, then we assume it is. But the people who meet in that building may or may not be doing or believing anything like what a real gathering of committed followers of Jesus should be doing…  On the other hand, there may be 25 people across the street who meet regularly and act and think much more like Jesus, but don’t call themselves anything.
  3. And then we get lost in the debate about what “real church” is.  I know some mega-churches that are tearing it up. They’re awesome.  And I know some small home group churches that are small for a reason (as in, no good and ingrown).  So the size doesn’t matter – either way.  That’s never the issue.  Paul doesn’t talk about it. We don’t every know how many people were in any New Testament church.

In the end, I think the last verses of Acts 2 accurately describe what “local church” looks like.  The components were:  biblical teaching.  Fellowship (hanging out together, eating and just spending time), prayer (and I think we could surmise some sort of “worship”), power, sharing/giving, and outward-focused mission.

I find it unlikely that a “church” of 2 or 3 could fulfill this. Jesus is surely present in any size and type of gathering that bears his name, but it’s not necessarily what the New Testament calls church. On the other hand, when a church gets too big there may be a decreased percentage of people involved in the above activities.  (There are things a huge church can do that small ones can’t and things that a small gathering can do that big ones can’t).

Finally, living things grow. If the local gathering of believers is not growing (both internally/invisible and externally/visible), then I think something’s amiss.  Things that are alive always grow.  And to take a wild stab – just for fun – here’s my ideal….

Depending on the context, a local church grows and multiplies every few years. Maybe it multiplies at 50, 500 or 5000.  But it multiplies.  Sends out.  Grows.  From my experience an effective size would be between 100 and 500.  Just my personal observation.

Lots to talk about in this one – feel free….

Comments

  1. Willem says:

    I agree with you on almost everything.

    I think the ideal size is not that clear cut because it differs from context to context.

    In a highly evangelized society the debate gets more complicated but I think in an unreached/unevangelized area the ideal size is somewhere between 6 and 20.

    The reasons are:
    In these areas persecution is normally very high which means that groups need to stay small so as not to attract to much attention.

    (Imagine a 100 people meeting together to worship Jesus somewhere in the middle east- it’s not ideal)

    Also because the need for Discipleship will be very high groups need to stay small so people will be be Discipled more effectively. It’s the classroom theory: the bigger your classroom the less effective learning becomes. The smaller your classroom the more personal attention you can give to each learner which improves efficiency.

  2. Carl Medearis says:

    Willem

    You are SO right. Not sure why, but I had my friends here in the states in mind when I wrote this. Of course. All our years in Lebanon we simply had gatherings in our homes. When it gets to be more than 20 adults, you have to multiply because the living room doesn’t hold that many. Simple as that. Thanks for pointing that out!

  3. Elizabeth Taylor says:

    Carl,
    I think you summed it up rather well!
    Willem had a good observation as well that small is sometimes necessary and very effective in certain ways. Even mega-chruches realize this and have opportunities for “small groups” within the larger church.
    With regard to NT church administration, there are principles and practices. Principles are foundational concepts while practices flesh out the principles and are largely cultural.

    I got your book and CD’s today and have started reading a little.
    What I have seen is excellent. Sharing Jesus Christ should our focus. He actually sums up our purpose with his parting words in the gospels: Go into all the world and “make disciples”, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. It is necessary at some point to allow friends to know Jesus’ will for baptism and have the opportunity to express their devotion, love, submission to him — a biblical example would be Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

    Of course, as you point out, this is a process that unfolds gradually (sometimes) and “shrewdness” (Jesus’ term) is required in our approach especially when polarizing cultural factors are involved. I am praying that I will love people from the heart and not treat them as projects, which I think you mentioned.

    “Doctrine” at its most basic level says this:
    All of us have a sin disease that is literally killing us whether Christians, Jews, New Age philosophers, Muslims.

    How do we get it “fixed”? — That is the question!

    Genuine loving friendships are important but we should be keeping this in the back of our minds when relating to our family and friends who are not believers in the Messiah. This requires “truth” to be revealed on certain levels. This is what we see Jesus doing. God can use individual friendships as well as open voices to accomplish this.

    All of this is Holy Spirit directed so “definites” are probably hard to come by.

  4. DDevens says:

    I wonder if the western christian culture is too firmly entrenched in the way we ‘do’ church. It seems to me that it has become more and more prohibitive to many new believers. It can be a very intimidating prospect for someone to go into a large building full of people you don’t know that are doing things that you don’t quite understand. It may work for the ones who want to hide in the back row and try to blend in, but is that really what we want to see? People hiding?

    I am finding that there is more interest in meeting personally in small house groups, coffee shops, etc. where one on one discipleship can really thrive. Getting new believers plugged into these small groups where they can get a grasp on all these new thoughts, ideas and questions. I mean let’s face it, Jesus can really flip you on head! The impact to their current relationships with family, friends or spouses for example. Getting a firm foundation before introducing someone to a larger context of fellowship ie: church as we know it, seems like a foreign concept to people.

    The first few weeks/months are so critical in a new believers long term walk and I am not currently convinced that the larger churches are adequately handling this issue.

    I’m not saying that larger churches are bad as I realize there are many things they do well. I am one of about 220 where I attend, sot huge, but not samll. However, speaking specifically to the above issue, they tend to get overwhelmed easily and feel even more ‘lost’ than they did before they realized they were ‘lost’!

    Is it possible for small group meetings (house churches) to expand along already established networks of relationships? To grow and reproduce healthily in America without the context of a large church overseeing them? Being accountable to one another as the groups continue to expand away from the core group?