Triumph of the Small Local Church

Our American culture assures us that bigger is always better.  The big box stores are intrinsically superior to the mom-and-pop shops, so we are told…but no one knows exactly why. This insidious mentality has also crept into the church in a big way, and we have been told for generations that bigger is always better.  Bigger congregations (including their worshipers, their staff, their buildings–the whole package) are intrinsically superior to the small, modest congregations, right?  Or so we have been told.  Likewise, the capitalist model has taken hold of our religious consciousness in America.  The message is clear: “Not only is bigger better, but if we see that another church is offering a better spiritual product, then we need to flee our dead churches and flock to the newest and latest thing.”  But is that conventional wisdom true?

I stumbled upon a great nugget in an article by Dave Goetz (former editor of Christianity Today) titled “Suburban Spirituality(Christianity Today, July 2003).  Allow this to penetrate your deepest consciousness:

For all of its foibles—lousy preaching, political infighting, self-centered focus, stagnation, a gaggle of special interest groups—the pokey local church…is still the most fertile environment for spiritual development.  In fact, there can be no genuine spiritual progress without a long-term attachment to a pokey local church….  Disillusionment with one’s church, then, is not a reason to leave but a reason to stay and see what God will create in one’s life and in the pokey local church.  What I perceive to be my needs—”I need a church with a more biblical preacher who uses specific examples from real life”—may not correspond to my true spiritual needs.  Often, in fact, I am not attuned to my true spiritual needs.

Thinking that I know my true spiritual needs is arrogant, narcissistic, and so American.  Staying put as a life practice allows God’s grace to work on the unsanded surfaces of my inner life.  Seventeenth-century French Catholic mystic Francois Fenelon wrote, “Slowly you will learn that all the troubles in your life—your job, your health, your inward failings—are really cures to the poison of your old nature.”

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