The first question people ask when they find out that I’m a minister is the name of the church that I preach for and then, without fail, follow up with the query, “How big is your congregation?” It seems as if there is something about the size of the congregation I serve that somehow gives them insight into who I am and probably my abilities as a minister.
When it comes to judging the value of any congregation of the Lord’s church and the competency of its workers, however, size is of limited use. Throughout the New Testament Jesus and His Apostles addressed disciples and churches on all kinds of issues both commending and correcting them but never once did they mention the size of any assembly in a negative or positive light. It’s as if how big they were was not a factor used in judging their appeal to God.
This may be because churches can be pleasing to the Lord and useful in ministry no matter what size they eventually become.
For example, big churches can do big things like take on the support of an entire mission team that will plant churches and more quickly build up the kingdom in a place where Christianity is not well known. Large mega-churches also have weightier reputations in the community and can often influence local leaders in the doing of good that is Christian in nature and spiritually productive for the general public. The list of advantages available to large congregations goes on and on but they are not without their own problems.
Lack of intimacy and the “corporate” feel of overly organized large churches tend to discourage people looking to connect with other Christians or have specific needs best served by the blessings of fellowship and the security of quiet, sincere friendships. Not that these are absent in big churches but they usually take more time to develop.
Small churches, on the other hand, are all about friendliness, close fellowship and a relaxed familiar feel. They don’t usually exercise a lot of public influence but their members are fiercely loyal to one another and they understand how important every single saint is to the body because when even one of the sheep goes missing or is hurt, everyone knows about it and all are affected in some way.
This is not to say that little churches are not productive, but much like the makers of exotic sports cars, each addition to the small church is hand crafted and requires the investment of many members. Unlike big churches who are able to delegate different ministries to various individuals and groups gifted for each type of work, in little churches the progress is usually the result of the entire church’s effort. There are no “specialists” in small churches, only generalists.
In the end, however, both big and little churches will be judged using the same measure. When the Lord comes, He will seek out those who have been faithful, regardless of the size of congregation in which they lived out their Christian lives.
We must not, therefore, be proud or boastful of the size of our assemblies (I.e. bigger is better/smaller is more sincere etc.). In the end, the size of our assemblies depends on the Lord because He is the One who adds (Acts 2:47) and thus deserves the credit and praise for the numbers. Our task is to remain faithful and we will be judged on this because we control faithfulness not numbers. Let us remember, therefore, that when Lord comes the operative word will not be big or little, but faithful.