Why not aspire to be a Hillsongesque mega church with cool people (like Justin Bieber in GQ no less)? Why not achieve notoriety that keeps the curious investigating, attracts money, and makes lots of space for anonymous people to have a private moment with Jesus while the speakers blare and screens elicit emotion? Why not bring all the massive capacity of technology to create an atmosphere of victory? Why not use the power of group excitement to beat back the devil? We have tried to answer these questions.
Being a bathtub or building a life together?
I honestly think there are a few reasons to do mega things. For instance, my first church plant was in the shadow of Greg Laurie’s budding megachurch. He frankly told people he thought he was creating a “big bathtub” where people could be saved/washed/baptized and then probably pass through his megachurch on their way to the rest of the churches where they would become long-term Christians. I took him to heart and decided to nurture Jesus followers. So for me, that’s why not to aspire to meganess; I want people to become lifelong Jesus-followers.
Building a house for 200 (complete with a bathtub) is more our approach. In the process of nurturing Jesus followers, we have a thing about the number 200. It is the number of people most people can comfortably relate to, the number in which they can feel safe, be themselves and find responsibility. Most people do not manage to comfortably be acquainted with more than 150-300 people (note the typical Facebook friends number, for instance). The famous Dunbar’s number represents a bunch of sociologists validating this fact.
So we think a congregation of cells should be about 200 adults – big enough to be expansive and self-sufficient, small enough to let everyone be known and valuable — a place where good trees can bear good fruit, like Jesus hoped. A congregation is pretty healthy if it grows past 100 people (the basic single-leader “family” church) and gets to 200. After 300 it is another kind of animal. People may feel more comfortable at 10, 100 or 200 (or 2000!), but we think that a functioning family of the many kinds of groups who make up the body of Christ has all the pieces they probably need at about 200 moving toward 300.
We don’t just talk about it, we do it
So our South Broad congregation got to about 270 and we sent off 60 adults and 30 children to the Northwest to make a new congregation. Now we expect the two congregations will grow into optimum size again and probably multiply. They will always relate to one another. We want to have the both/and of small (starting with cells and teams) and large (ending up with the entirety of our network as a church).
We would be a rather large event if we met as one big group and had a bang-up show. We’d probably attract more people because people like those shows. But we decided to empower the whole body instead. We are a community, not a commodity. We are an orchard not a mere organization. We are a people, not a program or a project. We are a tribe, not a talking head’s following. We focus on the “bottom” not the top. We can actually embrace the next person and include them in a living community, not just introduce them to a concept and a feeling and let them sort the rest out for themselves, bereft of context.
Those are among the reasons we resist becoming big and famous, even when we want the benefits of being one church in many locations. We are still big, but that’s not the point. You and your cell are the point. Each of us giving what we have been given by God, known and loved as we are, empowered and deployed according to our capacity is the point.