October 23, 2002, 2:41 pm
Filed under: uncategorized

How big is big enough? How big is too big?

So I’ve been doing some thinking/wrestling lately around the topic of worship gatherings that bring people together in “large” numbers. By this I mean regular (weekly? bi-weekly? monthly?) get-togethers of Jesus followers for the purpose of worship and unity. “Large” could be 20, 200, or 2,000 – dosn’t really matter to me. The point is creating a group experience of the worshipping community – it could be oriented toward music, art, reading of scripture, teaching, or something else – again, doesn’t really matter to me. The gathering itself is more important than what takes place at the gathering.

There’s so much that I love about the house church movement, and I’ve learned so much about the body of Christ through the friends I’ve made there. I’ve considered (and will continue to consider) being a part of it myself. The one hurdle I am having difficulty crossing is the group worship experience. I know that many house churches are part of a larger “network” which worships together on a regular basis, but others are not. I personally really see the need for it. I don’t believe that it is the primary gathering for the church – mainly because it doesn’t provide adequate relationship building opportunities. However, I would feel like something was missing if I didn’t have a very regular gathering with a larger group than I could fit in my living room.

As I thought about this, my first conclusion was that I’m projecting a cultural expectation on the church. I’ve grown up in an environment where the large gathering of the church was considered to be the church (which I disagree with). This may not be a biblical expectation. It’s worth exploration.

But then I thought some more, and I think I found a more fitting explanation for my feelings. I know that my personal relationships are the most fundamentally important aspect of my life. I am enriched by spending time with people I value (and sometimes with those I don’t). But I also know that when I am in a large group – whether it’s a college classroom, a concert, a football game, a big conference – I have a very different experience of life. Of these, I think the concert thing is what I relate to most (especially if it’s good, loud rock n’ roll). There’s an energy, a sense of expectation, a multi-faceted dialogue going on. It’s a more powerful experience of music than I get when I go to a coffee house. It’s not that the music is better – most live concerts are musically inferior to recordings (in my opinion). In a similar way, I have to think that my experience of the kingdom of God is enriched by gathering with a group of people who love Jesus. It’s no substitute for the relationships I have in smaller settings, but those relationships cannot produce in me the same sense of wonder that God works the way he does in a unified body of the Church.

The major problem with gathering a large group of people together is that there always seems to be an expectation of “performance.” Either the musicians or artists or teachers have to be able to do well in order for most people to walk away feeling like they’ve had a good experience. That’s a bunch of rubbish! The value of the experience is not in the quality of the performance but in being together. Jesus shows up when his followers get together (I know, I know, he shows up in smaller gatherings too).

O.k., so maybe some of my house church friends out there can give me some help. Where does the larger gathering come into play? For those of you who have these gatherings, please share with me the theology and the experience of how and why you do what you do. For those of you who don’t have these gatherings, why not? I want to learn from you all. Leave a comment below.


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