Church, Mission, Mission Shaped Church

Don’t grow huge trees plant small bushes…

Two men running away from a bear, one guy said to the other “we will never out run it” the other replied “I’m not trying to out run it, I’m trying to out run you!”

It made me think of sometime how we compete with each other when we are called to compliment each other.

Interestingly some research from George Lings of the Church Army research unit showed that building bigger churches as in increasing and growing larger congregations actually does very in bringing people who are not yet Christians to faith, all that happens is growth through transfer, actually often hampering local mission in communities, as people drive out of their communities to join with the largest trendiest, loudest show of Christendom in town.

Yet growth through transfer has actually warped our thinking on Missional congregations, interestingly research shows “it is better to plant lots of small shrubs that try and grow a big tree”. Small indigenous fellowships serving their communities can reach more not yet believers and see them come to faith than the large but impersonal mega church.

Yet interestingly I know of very few vicars that actually want to grow multiple small fruitful missional communities but I know hundreds that want to build something large and grand. I think just as with the story of the Bears we compete with each other in an unhelpful and unhealthy way, often our desires for growth come from our own desire to be successful but although it is good to succeed we are primarily called to be faithful, and sometimes our ego means we might want to build something very different from what God is actually calling us to build.

The idea that big or great is better than small and weak is actually quite a worldly perspective as it is in weakness that Christ is strong. This false thinking spreads across everything, when listening of reading economics the idea that if we create more rich people some how that will help the poor called ‘trickle down economics’ but as the Pope reminded us, rather than help trickling down to the poorest and most marginalised but instead the glass appears to get bigger.
We often talk about how many bums on seats rather than the depth or quality of discipleship, the christ-likeness in the followers. Attracting a crowd might feel good but unless people’s lives are radically changed, then what is the point.

It made me think about growth, and I realised that I ultimately want to primarily grow through evangelism, I want more than anything else in the world to see ordinary people becoming Christians and thriving in their faith, I don’t want a church of 1000 people if it is just entertaining Christians by being the best local hug in Christendom.

One thing I notice about Jesus, is his ministry was based around small but fruitful groups, although he spoke to the crowds he never “pastored a mega church” and his fruitfulness I believe came from his fruitful investment in a few people that ended up kick starting a movement whose momentum has not stopped 2000 years later.
So let’s not compete with each other.

Let’s plant small shrubs in faith.

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