Saturday, November 22, 2008

This Is Big

On Thanksgiving Day 70,000 people will gather in Texas Stadium to watch the Dallas Cowboys play the Seattle Seahawks. That is a mega-environment, and it will possess an energy that is virtually impossible to replicate. People will gather in the stands with thousands of others who share a similar passion for America’s team. It will rock. This is big!

The face of America is freckled with sanctuaries. Some are big. Many are small. They are found in metropolitan centers, urban sprawl, rural communities and farming cross-roads. Some are in areas of rapid growth. Some have lost population through decades of decline. Each scenario becomes a unique setting in which Christ’s church is on mission. In those contexts, what does a successful ministry look like? What are the measures of effectiveness?

Whether we admit it or not, unspoken tension often exists between small and mega churches. Which is better? More influential? More authentic? Effective in meeting needs? In sharing the Gospel? In making disciples? Be honest. It is easy to become jealous of one. It is easy to dismiss the other.

While some church leaders may be well known, the majority serve week in and week out in relative anonymity. Both, however, walk with those in the Body through hours of darkness and trauma; through broken marriages and wayward children. They pray, cry, and counsel. They rejoice when a broken marriage is restored, and when sons and daughters find their way home. Some have multiple staff to provide such ministry. Other pastors serve alone, without a single colleague to join in the load.

One thing I have learned across years is that the size of a congregation has little to do with the depth of her commitment to living the purposes of Christ. Clearly the ministry “cafeteria” of a larger church has many more entrees to offer. For those who are interested in the quantity of offerings, the small congregation cannot begin to compare with her larger siblings. But, if quality and depth of relationships are criteria for effectiveness, then I know many smaller congregations who excel. While relationships are formed within mega churches as well, those relationships are usually created in smaller units, subsets of the mega body, where people interact one-on-one.

In the smaller context there is little room to remain anonymous. Smaller congregations will often have strong relationships across generational lines as older members raise spiritual children and grandchildren together. Personal hurts are harder to hide in face-to-face and heart-to-heart relationships. When one member suffers others suffer as well. The same is true in situations that call for rejoicing! The shared suffering or joy grows as the grapevine relays news with in the Body. Those grapevines are amazing… faster than the internet.

Thanksgiving afternoon, my family will watch the game together with those 70,000 spectators in the stands of Texas Stadium. But we will do so from our den, with just a handful of family and friends gathered. And if one of the grandchildren shuts a door on a finger (please no!) or falls and bruises a knee, we will all know, and all care. For us, relationships matter most. We will watch the network broadcast of the game while Texas stadium is not a mile from our house. We can go outside and see the blimp flying over, hear the ruckus of the crowded stadium. But we will not miss anything…for we have each other. When you think about it, the same can be said of those who are family members in mega churches…and in smaller churches. Both have their place in the Kingdom. And this is big!

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