IS BIGGER ALWAYS BETTER?

November 3, 2022

Bigger is not always better, except with Sumo wrestlers. 

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

  • Smaller groups are better than big congregations in one crucial way. Read on and find out more!
  • We call the bigger gatherings, Great Commotion Congregations.

WHAT IS A GREAT COMMOTION CONGREGATION?

  • Great Commotion Congregations assume bigger is always better. Therefore,
    • Great Commotion Congregations anoint a business model of success.
      • Success means making budget
      • Success means always increasing in size and budget
      • Success means filling the seats
      • Success means bigger and more buildings
      • Success means being the biggest congregation in town
    • Great Commotion Congregations are often like theaters.
      • The platform up front is really a stage
      • The worship team is a band
      • The congregation is an audience
      • Glitzy audio-visuals are a plus
      • And the service is quite a show

Have you ever attended a Great Commotion Congregation?

Was it a warmly relational experience, or was it more like a show?

WE HAVE A PROBLEM

  • While it is true that Great Commotion Congregations serve some excellent purposes with leaders who care about the right things
  • And it is true that larger congregations will continue to serve important purposes for us all
  • We have a problem: Because of their size, the bigger they are, the harder it is for Great Commotion Congregations to serve Yeshua’s Prime Directive

WHAT IS YESHUA’S PRIME DIRECTIVE?

  • Yeshua's Prime Directive is the GREAT COMMISSION    
  • Yeshua didn’t send his disciples to build a bigger audience, a bigger budget, and bigger buildings. He said this:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.”

(Mattityahu/Matthew 28:18-20)
  • The ultimate criterion for measuring a congregation's success or failure is its success or failure in making disciples for Yeshua!
  • Smaller gatherings have a better chance of doing this job well.
  • These smaller gatherings are Jewish havurot, and Christian house churches.

WHY ARE SMALLER GATHERINGS LIKELY TO BE BETTER SUITED TO THE WORK OF DISCIPLESHIP?

  • Discipling is not about indoctrination. It’s about sharing new life in Yeshua energized by the Spirit so that people are increasingly conformed to his image.
  • Yeshua explained it this way. He said, “It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher.” He was telling his disciples, “Your goal should be to be like me.”
  • And elsewhere in the Bible, we're told, ”God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son (that’s Yeshua), so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
  • People in God’s family receive others and disciple them into the family by sharing with them life with Yeshua and helping them to grow in the family likeness. All of this is top to bottom and side-to-side relational.
  • Discipling is intensely relational. As the Bible says, “You can’t love God whom you have not seen if you don’t love your brother whom you have seen.” Relationship with people and relationship with God are coordinate. You can’t have one without the other.
  • We must be family with one another to be family with God.
  • And smaller groups, havurot and house churches, is where relational intimacy happens best!

CONSIDER THE GREAT OMISSION

  • The GREAT OMISSION is our failure to make discipling our first priority and to use havurot and house churches to get this done.  
  • Do we have a superior alternative?

Only if you're hungry for more, GO DEEPER below to discover historical context.

GOING DEEPER

Forming smaller groups to intensify spiritual growth is no new idea. In the first century both the establishment Pharisees and the anti-establishment Essenes in Qumran formed such small groups to intensify their own spirituality and to set an example for others. Members of these groups met together, ate together, learned together, and prayed together.

Yeshua and his disciples did precisely the same thing. Consider the twelve disciples, a good size for a havurah, and consider how they also met together, ate together, learned together, and prayed together for the sake of their ministry to a wider world.

What started with Yeshua and the apostles in the first century continued to be the meeting model for Yeshua groups all over the Roman Empire until the beginning of the fourth century. These Yeshua groups were smaller than we would imagine and routinely met in homes. 

Missiological innovator Steve Addison fills us in:

"On a number of occasions Paul's ministry led to the conversion of whole households--for the Philippian jailer, the merchant Lydia, Jason in Thessalonica, the household of Crispus the synagogue leader in Corinth, and the household of Stephanus, also in Corinth. Private homes were a place where social distinctions--between rich and poor, slave and free, male and female--could be more relaxed than in the public gaze. The household (or oikos) was the building block of Greco-Roman society. Under Roman law the father of the household had authority over his immediate family and other dependents such as relative, slaves, hired workers and even business associates. Household members were connected to each other through formal and informal ties--family, friendship and work relationships.

Paul described Stephanus and his family as the 'first' converts in the province of Achaea. They were 'first fruits' --not just the first converts but a pledge from God of more to come. They became the nucleus of a growing community in Corinth and throughout Achaea. Their work and witness resulted in others being added to the faith.

Reaching households of people who became new believers was an important part of Paul's practice. Through households the gospel traveled from person to person across the ties of existing relationships. Private homes provided a natural center of life for the formation of a new church" (127-128).

The successful establishment of new communities of disciples was closely connected to the use of private homes. Homes served both as bases for missionary work and meeting places for new believers. They were the place [where] believers could gather in reasonable security for worship, fellowship and learning.

In the cities of the Roman Empire, most people lived in multi-story apartment buildings. Many families lived in one small room--too small for a meeting of more than a few people. So most Christians who lived in the cities met in small groups of up to fifteen people in tenement buildings. Large public facilities for meeting and sharing meals were not available. Gentiles met in pagan temples or private homes for community events and gatherings. Jews met in private homes or in synagogues, many of which were converted homes. Christians from both Jewish and pagan backgrounds were familiar with meeting in homes for fellowship meals. Larger gatherings required the use of private homes that only the wealthy could afford. the largest room in the home of a prominent person could hold thirty to fifty people. More could be accommodated if hallways and other rooms were used ."

Steve Addison, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World, 127-128, 143-144

There is much more we could say about such groups. Yeshua=believers have established them in many places in many ways in the past two thousand years. We could also talk about the havurah movement in Judaism which burgeoned in the 1960s and 1970s. But that will have to wait for another time.

Let’s close with a comment about what is happening in our day in the Christian world. The authors of this next quote are the Dales, a married couple with long experience in planting such groups, and George Barna, the most well-known demographer of the American evangelical context.

Here is what they say about house churches, the Christian equivalent of havurot:

God is taking an event-based institution and reforming it so that it is becoming life- and relationship-based . . . something with a new heart with a different DNA than we have seen in our lifetimes.

(Tony Dale, Felicity Dale, and George Barna, The Rabbit and The Elephant,  Barna:2009, 30).

The “event-based institution” is the Great Commotion Congregation and its smaller spawn, focused as they are on the big meeting and the big crowd. The Dales and Barna believe God is doing a new thing, creating something in its place, “more life- and relationship-based.”  This is precisely what I highlighted in this blog, an essential environment for the work of discipleship.

Considering the issues involved, would ignoring such a development be our Great Omission?

THE BOTTOM LINE

I leave you with three terms to mull over. How do these speak about your past, present, and future experience?

  • THE GREAT COMMOTION
  • THE GREAT COMMISSION
  • THE GREAT OMISSION

2 comments on “IS BIGGER ALWAYS BETTER?”

  1. Stuart,

    As usual, you have written in a most insightful, stimulating way about a very important topic, and one that is often neglected or forgotten. We clearly need to do far better at replicating Yeshua's life in those with whom we come into contact. You've given us--as you frequently do--some meaty stuff to chew on. Thank you!

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