by Terry Camsey, Major –
Some years ago, I was guest at officers’ councils in Germany. I was thrilled to see so many keen young officers and to have an opportunity for personal conversations with them.
One particular conversation has stayed with me. It was with one of those young officers stationed at an old small corps. He was very depressed because he had been made aware that an elderly soldier of the corps prayed daily that no new people would be attracted because they would “spoil the fellowship!” How motivated would you be as leader of such a corps?
There seems to be some thinking around that the Army was born small, and to be small. We certainly weren’t small in our early days, when the Army caught fire with its military metaphor and tightly focused target group for ministry. If I read the history books right, there were many settings in which thousands of people gathered regularly. Auditoriums were secured to handle large crowds and a feeling that the Army could––and would reach the world was rampant.
So where, along the line, did we settle for small congregations as being the expected (and acceptable) norm?
Contrast this with a news article that appeared in the July 18 edition of the New York Times. It referred to Lakewood Church, Houston, the largest church in the nation that has just moved into Compaq Center, once home of the Houston Rockets. A stadium that seats 16,000!
Started in 1959 by a former Southern Baptist preacher, there are now 30,000 in the congregation…a mix of different races and generations. The congregation has quadrupled in six years. The choir has five hundred members. There are four services each weekend including one in Spanish. It has been called “Christianity Lite” by some, which sounds strangely reflective of comments heard in many denominations referring to newly planted churches… “It may be growing, but it’s not really Lutheran!” (or Presbyterian, or Anglican, or…Army?!)
But, you know, it has been said before that different churches attract different kinds of people (it has been estimated that each church in a community can attract one percent to two percent from the community). The actual size of a congregation is, in many ways, immaterial. To win a thousand people, some denominations would prefer twenty churches with fifty in the congregation. Others might prefer ten churches with one hundred people, or five churches with two hundred people. The point is that the aggregate size of the “barn space” (church size) provided should be adequate for the harvest available for reaping.
But I keep coming back to the old soldier who doesn’t want the fellowship spoiled. This may also be a sentiment shared by many corps who are comfortable with the status quo and don’t want their fellowship to be disturbed in any way.
I wonder how they will react to worship in heaven the size of which, according to the book of Revelation, makes even the Lakewood Church congregation look insignificant! There’s a paradox for you.
What pleases God most, I wonder. Corps determined to keep reaching out until all the lost in their communities are gathered into barns (noble barns!) ––or corps satisfied to live in and celebrate the past, while the present (sharing God’s ultimate gift) is neglected.
It’s hard to read!