I can't think of anything that a single church community can do which a network of communities working together can't do (though admittedly, such networks would probably move more slowly in many cases). On the other hand, I can think of a bunch of thorny issues that begin to arise when communities get so big that anonymity is possible - which probably happens when they approach 50 or 70 adults; fewer if the leadership responsibility is concentrated in one or two individuals. Once anonymity is possible, the church ceases to be a community of followers of Jesus.He draws attention to two particular issues:
- It's not a community where relationship is optional. It's OK to be an introvert. It's OK to hang back and take relationship at your own pace. But once it's possible to simply fall through the cracks - to neither know or be known and for no-one to realize that - it's not a community. It's more like a neighborhood - or a housing development. There are , no doubt, communities within the neighborhood - groups of people who share real relationship with each other - but the only thing shared by the entire group is not relationship, but mere proximity. Just like in the average housing development in the US today.
- It's not community where following Jesus is optional. It's OK to be just starting on the way. It's OK to not be sure you want to be on that way at all. But it should be clear to everyone that following Jesus is what the community is about. It's not a group with a dual track: one group of people who try to be disciples, and a second group who choose the second, perfectly acceptable alternate track: simply show up once a week and pay for services provided by the first group. Oh, I know that every church says it's about discipleship. But practical reality speaks way louder than words, and the fact is that in communities large enough for folks to "slip through the cracks", it's blatantly obvious to all involved that the "just show up and consume" option is a perfectly valid one, 'cause folks can see plenty of people all around them choosing that.
I’d add a third problem to Mike’s two. People can be too geed up about quantity. The first question people ask vicars at parties, and vicars ask themselves, is often “how big is your congregation?” Fear and fantasy infects their minds, and they begin to think they are failures if they don’t grow into a 200+ congregation. So they flog themselves to try and grow. This compromises their authenticity, which in itself prevents them growing. Thus the vicious circle runs, and the more they bash their head against a wall, the more it hurts, and the more stuck they become.Jesus once said something interesting about grapes, figs and briars. A Tangerine is not a Small Orange, and however hard it fantasizes about being a Big Orange, God won’t let it happen.
What concerns me isn't the size of congregations as much as Mike’s second point about dual tracks. Where congregations of any size become “dual track” with a bunch of keenies doing the Jesus bit and everybody else in it for what they can get out of it, or sheer force of habit, Houston, we have a problem. We’re probably less hung up (explicitly) on numbers than Americans, but more hung up on relationality. Hmm. What do you think?
PS h/t Studiohermetique for “Schizophrenic Supplicants, above.