The best atmosphere for healthy, constructive church community is often the mid-sized group. This is the conclusion I have come to after 25 years of ministry, mission and building movements. Allow me to explore this with you. I will be the first to admit that we are still learning and my thoughts are highly subjective. Comments are welcome.
Crowds attract spectators, not disciples. Long term small groups develop naval-gazers, not disciples. Both of these have a role to play within movements, but they need to be anchored in the mid-sized worship gathering. Large crowds are the worst setting for disciple making. They are also the worst setting for church to happen. If you define church as a spectator sport, rock concert or celebrity gathering, then perhaps crowds will do. But Biblical one-another gatherings do not happen in crowds.
Small groups are also not ideal for worship gatherings. The small group is more a Western phenomena than a Biblical principle. True, Jesus had twelve disciples. But even a casual reading of scripture will reveal that He also regularly travelled with a number of women and other people. Historians tell us, based on archaeological evidence, that even New Testament house churches were probably groups of 50-120 people.
Mid-sized gatherings have several advantages over small groups. For newcomers, they are friendly without being threatening. Small groups are intimidating, but mid-sized groups provide a safe space where new people can dissolve into the group. For participants, mid-sized groups are inclusive without forcing participation. Where small groups almost necessitate every person participating every time, mid-sized groups allow space for introverts to participate when they feel comfortable. In terms of movement and mission, mid-sized groups multiply easier without feeling like divorce (well, relatively speaking!). It is much easier to send out five people from a gathering of thirty, than it is to send out two from a gathering of four.
Leadership development takes place more naturally in a mid-sized group. Leaders are able to function in team and in the Biblical plurality of eldership. They are also able to function within their gifts. A mid-sized group can have pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets. Small groups are unlikely to possess all these gifts. Both crowds and small groups tend towards a lone leader. Hence, they tend to adopt the personality of that leader and neglect the other expressions of Christ to His Body.
Mid-sized communities are not missional – they are attractional. For the urban dweller, their attraction is in the promise of healthy community – something very rare in the city. Although they are not missional, mid-sized communities can organise mission very effectively. They often do mission together. They also use small groups to do mission. These small groups are able to function where life happens in a way that mid-sized groups cannot.
Not all mid-sized groups or churches are healthy. Some try to function as crowds in their desperate desire to compete with the mega-church down the road. In doing so, they sacrifice their one true strength: healthy community. Others attempt to function with small group ideals. They are soon frustrated. Circular seating arrangements and every member monologue are not ideals that a mid-sized group clings to. Families do not sit in neatly organised circles where each person speaks – one at a time. This arrangement makes for a good AA meeting, but families are messier. Extended family, particularly, functions in a beautiful chaotic order of its own.
In our pursuit to understand and build urban movements, we are launching a new movement in Gauteng. We are using mid-sized worship gatherings as one aspect of the movement. These do not function as small churches in the traditional, typical sense of the word. Rather, they are communities of ordinary people who gather in extended (inclusive) community to worship, love one another and love the lost. They are fluid, yet sustainable. They are flexible, yet stable. They are well organised, yet unprofessional.
They are healthy church community for the city.