How big is a congregation supposed to be before it is considered a healthy growing church? We’re aware that Matthew records the Lord’s words in light of church constitution as “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20 NIV) There’s an interesting discussion that goes on in Christendom about what is better, a big church or a little church. I’m not so sure that size matters. As I stated in a recent writing, lately I’ve discovered some interesting insights from reading 1 Corinthians 14 from different translations.
23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”(NIV)
The NIV reads, “So if the whole church come together.” The gathering of believers in Christ was not an assured thing. The man who wrote these words himself had experienced situations and conditions that made it dangerous and at times impossible to gather as Christians. The intimate setting of only 2 or 3 individuals coming together to celebrate the name of Jesus was not so uncommon through the empire of pagan Rome. The church in Corinth was in much better condition than this. While the church’s specific size is never given there are inferences that seem to indicate something greater in number than 2 or 3.
But even with these inferences there seems to be indications they were nowhere near meeting in the thousands either. Paul writes to them and says, “But if some unbelieving outsiders walk in on a service…” (1 Corinthians 14:24 Message Bible). The words “if some” imply that “unbelieving outsiders” were not a common occurrence in a service. Life as a Christian in the Roman Empire was not what it is here in the land of the free and home of the brave. To boldly believe in Jesus did not help you travel in the highest circles and secure a wonderful future in this life. So, it is very doubtful that visitors to the services were a regular occurrence and a clear barometer of church growth. Not to sound overly redundant, but the next verse I think gives a clearer picture of what a “growing church” looks like according to the Apostle Paul.
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (NIV)
Folks sharing and contributing when they come together seems to be the indicator of a good, healthy growing church. One may ask, Ok, but what if our small church is weak and we have very few that contribute, is God in that? It seems to me that a small weak church where great needs exist is of better capability to display the presence of Christ than a large congregation were all that is seen is the gift and personality of one man. Church growth, whether the gathering is large or small, may just get down to one key question we all can ask, “Who do You See?” The answer must be in hearing Jesus say, “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20 NIV) May we see Jesus in His church! Strong or weak, few or many ask the question, “Who Do You See?” and then share in the church the gift God gives you that best displays Him. That is true church growth!
J. Robert Hanson