bits from bob....

Growing Smaller: Key to Efffective Evangelism

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

The church must discover how to make itself smaller, more fluid, more capable of flowing into and penetrating every nook and cranny of our world. For most of the last one hundred years, the church has become increasingly enamored with bigness and success. The church has measured itself by the size of its buildings and budgets and the number of bodies. Too many churches have sought to make bigger and bigger piles, and in the name of big piles, have been willing to let anyone and everyone "pile on." The result has often been big piles of largely uncommitted folks. The influence of the church-being light and salt and leaven-has been compromised. The church must reverse that process. Using a delightful oxymoronic phrase, the church must learn the importance of growing smaller.

I have in my files a quotation attributed to Bill McKibben:

The story of the twentieth century was finding out just how big and powerful we were. And it turns out that we're big and powerful as all get-out. The story of the twenty-first century is going to be finding out if we can figure out ways to get smaller or not. To see if we can summon the will, and then the way, to make ourselves somewhat smaller, and try to fit back into this planet.
Only when the church learns how to grow itself smaller will it be able to fit into the crevices of our world. A church that celebrates its diverse unity can fit in anywhere and everywhere. The big, overwhelming, overpowering church cannot do it. The big, impressive church will exclude some people without intending to do so. I visited a Catholic shrine in a Central American country recently. The building is still used weekly for church services. Our driver said, "This is the church of the rich folks." The huge, silver-plated building, expensive to maintain, visible from a long distance, excluded some of the very ones who most needed God's presence in their lives. As I observed the barrios around the building, obviously filled with huddled masses of humanity, I thought to myself, "This church cannot reach across the street to its closest neighbors."

The study of small groups and house churches has been for me a major area of emphasis over the past two decades. I am aware of the potential problems of house churches and small groups. I also see that small groups of Christian believers, meeting regularly for worship and fellowship, open groups that can welcome and minister to one another and to guests, are one of God's ways of penetrating the distant recesses and corners of our world. Unfortunately, the existence of churches that cannot reach across the street to their closest neighbors is not limited to other countries and nations. It is a pressing reality in our nation-a reality that must break the hearts of God's people before we will be called to change our emphasis so that we can make a difference.

I believe that existing churches can learn the process of growing smaller. It will be painful. It may demolish our idols and change our dearest experiences, but without such changes, the church we love and cherish may cease to exist within a few years. Growing smaller will require that we see and accept the responsibility and role of individual members, most likely lessening the focus on the assembled body. Growing small will come from seeing the assembly not as the end, but as a means for empowering the body in the daily marketplace where the gospel can go where it has not previously gone. That emphasis on individual Christians who live out their faith seven days a week will not lessen the importance of the assembly, it will increase it. It will simultaneously call all of God's people to a different understanding of life.

How will the gospel go to your neighbor? How will the gospel go to the expansive, heavily populated mountainsides of major metropolitan areas across Latin America? How will the gospel go to the great cities of our world where the majority of the world's population lives? Will it go to such places with more and more assembly locations to which uninterested, non-Christian people can be invited? Or will it go by osmosis, the slow but certain flowing of the gospel into the world through the influence of God's people, taking the gospel everywhere they go? What did Jesus mean when he said, in the Great Commission, "As you are going, make disciples…."?

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Last updated July 24, 2011