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….