If Churches Could Talk:
Western Church: “On no! We can’t meet for worship in large groups!”
Underground Global Church: “And the problem is…?”
The irony is the persecuted underground church cannot meet for worship in large groups, yet it is growing rapidly. The free Church in the West has focused most of its resources on the weekend gathering and it has been shrinking.
God may be using (I didn’t say “causing”) Covid to help transform the Western Church from an audience into an army.
Say, “church,” to an American and they might picture a worship service they attend, or perhaps they think of a building. Thinking of church in that way will turn participants into spectators. Or perhaps hearing the word “church” will prompt others to think of a favorite ministry that meets a felt need. Perceiving the church that way will make participants consumers. This is not meant as a criticism on our nation’s church members; it is simply an observation of the way our churches have been designed to operate.
But say, “church” to a persecuted Chinese or Iranian believer and a different picture comes to their minds. They will picture people they know – a small group of fellow believers. The reason that the persecuted church is growing and experiencing the power of God is that the believers are actively obeying the call of Jesus to reach the unreached and to care for one another. They are an army.
For the last 20 years, at Crossroads we have taught that the Church was born with two “wings”:
1. the large group gathering for worship, and
2. the small group for life together. (Acts 5:42)
We need both wings. (When I am 35,000 feet in the air on an airplane, it is really hard for me to decide which wing is most important!) I experience something unique when I gather with a large of fellow believers to praise God, and the disciple-making power of God has shaped me in my small group experiences.
However, due to the pandemic, the large gathering is not always possible – and even where it is, the experience is certainly not the same. Maybe God is using Covid to help us activate the under-used small group wing of the Church.
Jesus said, “Wherever 2 or 3 of you are gathered, I am there in the midst.” He knew there would be times and places where 2 or 3 would be all that could gather, and he wanted us to know it was spiritually significant.
We see disciples multiplying rapidly in house churches around the world, even where they are persecuted. Why don’t we see that same growth through small groups in America?
One reason is that in a persecuted land everyone expects church to happen entirely in the group. In other words, all the functions of the church happen in the house church. There is no other option.
By contrast, in the U.S., small groups are generally structured to fulfill just one or two of the purposes of the Church: “fellowship,” and Bible Study, for example. Groups don’t thrive when they don’t fulfill all the purposes of the Church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism. When small groups carry out just one or two of the purposes of the church, people will see them as an optional program for church members that are into that sort of thing.
Perhaps the Lord is using this Covid experience to reshape his Church. For the foreseeable future, churches will not be able to rely on in-person worship as their primary expression of church. Churches that focus on doing all the purposes in small groups will make disciples and thrive under the Spirit’s power.
Let’s be real; merely changing the size of our gatherings will not bring revival. There are other factors that connected with a focus on house church-size groups. We’ll look at those in upcoming blog posts.