I’ve spent several weeks exploring the idea of where we are right now in the CGGC, particularly as we anticipate looking forward into the future and discerning where the Lord wants us to go and what He wants us to do as His people. Some of what I share will be from a broader view – where the CGGC reflects what’s going on across the larger evangelical church in North America. At other times, the sense will be much more specific to the CGGC and where we find ourselves in this critical moment.
I remember the moment well. I was speaking at a church several years ago (circa 2004) and was speaking to one of the congregation’s leaders before the service. Somehow, the name of another CGGC congregation nearby was mentioned and how they had experienced a fair amount of growth over the recent past. The church leader looked at me and said “if we wanted to sell out I guess we could do that too, but we want to honor the Lord here.” There was a covert but ironically clear message in his statement: if you’re experiencing numerical growth you must be compromising or watering down the Gospel in some way, shape or form.
While that was the first time I encountered that mentality or attitude, it certainly wasn’t the last time. As a matter of fact, I encounter it quite frequently these days. There are some who believe that smallness in number is a clear demonstration of holiness or faithfulness. There’s an unstated belief behind that mentality: you can’t be staying faithful to Jesus if you’re seeing lots of people show up.
If we’re ever to move forward with what the Lord wants for the CGGC, we’ve got to get beyond this type of petty thinking. This kind of attitude is just as wrong as those who believe the western ideal of bigger is always better! We need the church in all her expressions: big and small, new and old, along with a host of fresh expressions that will seem unfamiliar and even strange to some of us.
What fuels this kind of mentality?
Sometimes it boils down to simple human jealousy. Some of us need to name this, own it, confess it and repent. We’ve worked hard, been faithful and still haven’t experienced the growth we hoped for or thought would result from our efforts. It’s easy to become jealous of those who do experience something that we haven’t experienced despite our best efforts. It’s tempting to talk down others whose experience is different than our own.
Sometimes it’s simply ignorance at work. “Big churches don’t faithfully teach the word of God.” Have you been there? Do you know that for a fact? Have you ever interacted with the leaders of that church? I often find that folks paint with pretty broad strokes at times and that they might hold assumptions about a particular congregation that just aren’t true. Don’t be so quick to assume that you know what it’s really like at “such-and-such” church when you’ve never been there and experienced it firsthand.
Sometimes it’s a reaction to years of influence of the church growth movement that often lifted up large congregations as the example for everyone else to copy. There were many times in the past that folks like myself lifted up large congregations as the example for everyone else to imitate. Just do XYZ like this congregation and you’ll see the same results. While well intentioned, this was unrealistic and often unhelpful as it ignored a host of other contextual factors. This reaction provides a needed correction: we all don’t need to be big in order to play the role that God has for us in His kingdom: it takes all shapes and sizes to accomplish the mission of Jesus.
The future we’re moving into has room for the big and the small, the mega and the micro. We don’t have time for some of the pettiness that often plagues us… we need all of our brothers and sisters pulling for each other, encouraging one another rather than offering fruitless criticism. Let’s learn to grow in our appreciation for what each of us bring to the body of Christ.
CGGC eNews—Vol. 13, No. 18