I was talking the other day with an old friend who has been in full time youth ministry for the past 20 years. We talked about our church plant in Canada coming to an end, our thoughts on what was next for my wife and I and the direction of the North American Church in general. I shared with him that we were leaning towards a smaller, house church version than the traditional NA version. I said that the closest I ever felt like we were modelling the New Testament Church was when we were having a small group meet in our home.
He said something that stuck with me. He said: “That’s always been the difficult part, hasn’t it? To try to make a large church feel smaller.” I agreed but that statement kept coming back to me over the next week. Then it hit me one day… “Why are we trying to make big churches feel small? Why aren’t we just trying to have small churches?” Maybe big churches was never the plan. Maybe making a lot of little churches feel big is the way to go. I think one of the reasons it doesn’t fly is pure and simply… Pride.
In the past, I never wanted to be part of a house church. There’s nothing flashy about that. There’s no place in “America’s Fastest Growing Churches” magazine for my little house church. I’d see these large churches with massive buildings and thousands of attendees and thought, “man what a testament to God’s Spirit being poured out.” Until you get involved in larger churches and then realize that most of those people aren’t even followers of Jesus. That was the part that kept nagging at me. All the time and effort (and tons of finances) poured out to grow the gathering but not adding to the Church.
I kept thinking, “Man, imagine what all that money could do for people who really need it.” Thousands of dollars spent on marketing and advertising, thousands more on renting movie theatres, and all the paid employees of the church. Imagine what could be done by meeting in homes, not having paid staff and using 100% of the money given for, you know… ministering to those around us.
You can hide and blend in churches. You can make Sundays your day to show up and that is the extent of your commitment to following Jesus. You don’t have to serve, you don’t have to sacrifice, you don’t need to grow in living out the faith you proclaim. There is no accountability and no engagement, and we think that our large crowds are “growing the church.” And yet that is the framework in which we continue to try to operate. We want to be part of a large church yet I think that is precisely why it isn’t working. Who cares if you succeed in growing a gathering if you aren’t also growing the Church? We are succeeding at things that don’t ultimately matter.
The answer I think is this. Make small churches feel like they are part of something bigger. Don’t try to make big church feel small, don’t make church big in the first place. Church planter Dan White Jr. said “1. Christianity started out in Palestine as a community. 2. Moved to Greece to become a philosophy. 3. Went to Rome, became an institution. 4. Spread to Europe, became a government. 5. Came to America, became an enterprise. What might it take for us to return to a community?”
I have an answer to that. Let the North American consumerism version of the Church die. Remember how Solomon said “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. Ecl 3:1–8
Maybe it’s time to speak. Maybe it’s time to scatter the Church in North America. No more church buildings, instead let’s build the Church. Smaller more intimate gatherings, no paid pastors, accountability among the church members, purposeful giving. And then tie them all together as the Church. United yet autonomous. Are you interested? I sure am. Because bigger is killing us.
Written by Brian Lajeunesse