I was reflecting this morning on my experience as a young child at the historic Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento, California. It is the oldest African American congregation west of the Rockies. In its prime period, it was considered to be an extremely “big” church. This term was more commonly used prior to such terminology as “mega-church.” Shiloh would fan the flames of social justice and biblical principles in my life and in the lives of noted individuals such as former Princeton professor, Dr. Cornell West. My parents were always were consistent in ensuring our timely arrival for Sunday services. However, for many years, I was ushered off to a children’s church gathering that was simultaneous with the one large morning worship service. I still recall telling my father, “I want to go to the big church.” I observed that the feelings of community, vibrancy, and empowerment seemed to be where nearly nine hundred people were gathering in the sanctuary down the hall from the children’s area. I wanted to be where things were BIG.
Several years have passed, and I find my evaluation and appreciation of what constitutes a big church has changed. Yes, there is a unique phenomenon that occurs within congregations made up of five hundred or more people. However, there is a greater phenomenon that is occurring within the African American community as well as other communities that cannot be overlooked. There is interest in engaging small groups and small missional communities in ways that look very different than the image of a church with large numbers of people. These communities of five, ten, twelve, or fifteen people are redefining what makes a church big. Some specific characteristics of these groups are as follows:
- Connection with other people without the requirement of formal membership
- Commitment nurtured through connectivity versus various formalities
- Emphasis on discipleship
- Affirmation of the priesthood of the believer model
- Opportunities for personal ministry using spiritual gifts
- Intentional multiplication based upon necessity and desire to grow
- Valuing and strengthening interpersonal relationships regardless of the number of people within the buildings
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SOURCE: Church Central
Parnell Lovelace, Jr.