Our society is in love with BIG. Big universities are popular. People flock to big shopping malls. And when we do one-stop shopping, it is at a Super Wal-Mart. The same seems to be true of attendance in United Methodist Congregations. In 1998 the largest attendance by size was in congregations averaging 200 – 349. In 2003 it moved up to 350-499 and in 2008 it moved up again to 500-749. Does that mean that God is no longer using smaller congregations to reach persons and impact communities? The point of this post is a modest one: it is simply to say, “Absolutely not.”
In the last post I said that God often advances God’s mission through those that seem less likely to be chosen to do so. Even a cursory look at Scripture reminds us that this is true.
Abraham and Sarah received God’s promise: I will make you parents of a nation as plentiful as the stars in the sky that will be a blessing to all peoples. At that time, they had been receiving their monthly AARP magazine in the mail with their social security check for years. Sarah laughed in Genesis 18 because the promise seemed so impossibly ludicrous. And later she laughed for joy as she had her baby in the geriatric ward: she couldn’t believe how God had blessed them to be a blessing to others.
God told Gideon in Judges 7, “You have too many men.” They whittled the number down from 22,000 to 10,000. Still God said, ‘You have too many men. If you win against the Midianites, you will think that it was because of your own strength.’ So they whittled it down to 300. And then God gave Israel victory over the Midianites.
David was chosen by God from the smallest tribe in Israel and even as the youngest of eight sons in his family. In I Samuel 18 David went up against Goliath: a shepherd boy against a giant seasoned soldier. The King tried to dress him up in his own armor, but David knew better than to pretend to be anything than who he was. And so with a sling and some smooth rocks David faced the Philistine’s WMD . . . and won.
Jesus handpicked his disciples oddly. They were not the best of the best Hebrew students that other rabbis sought. Jesus’ disciples were the young men that had gone on to vocational education and careers in their family business, rather than the best students who continued their religious education. They were hardly impressive in the eyes of the world, but God used them to catalyze a movement in history that, with the power of the Holy Spirit, continues today to grow worldwide, blessing people and impacting culture.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks . . ., chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?" (I Cor. 1:26f.)
If you are the leader of a congregation that is smaller and if it seems that you have fewer resources than you used to have or less resources than some of the big dog congregations, it’s good to remember that God regularly uses those less likely on the surface to advance God’s mission in the world. Can small congregations with few resources have life changing, community impacting ministries? Absolutely! And in the next three posts I’d like to share with you the three key things that enable any congregation to be used significantly to advance God’s mission today.
Meanwhile, whatever sized congregation you may be part of, know that God can use your congregation to bless others and impact your community . . . if we are willing to be used God’s way and for God’s purposes.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence