The neutrality of bigness

Last Lord's day, despite the absence of a few, we had an encouragingly large congregation. By some standards, it was large. By others, pitifully small. By ours, with a visiting family of believers, and a number of visitors from the community, several for the first time, it was a joy.

Over the pond, the biennial Together for the Gospel jamboree has begun. A number of friends are present. The esteemed Derek Thomas is there, his Twitter feed and Facebook page proudly displaying his bright red T4G wristband. Mez McConnell is there, sporting his beanie and, if I remember rightly, threatening to give it away to some poor soul. Brian Croft is there, with his infectious enthusiasm and his Practical Shepherding booth. Tim Brister is there, with his increasingly vigorous beard and his Band of Bloggers. There are people that I know by reputation, some by passing contact of varying degrees of depth. And there are others. About eight thousand others.

What do we make of such figures? Compare it with the crowd that gathers at a major sporting event, and it is almost negligible. Compare it with the trickle of souls into some church buildings on the Lord's day, and it is massive. Perhaps for some, such numbers call forth suspicion, sneering, even sourness.

We should note that this is an unusual event, a rare event, not a church gathering. Few single churches could or should reach such a size. But the numbers themselves are not a problem. Would to God that we had eight thousand men and women and children gathering to hear and rejoice in the good news on a more regular basis! Even some of the prickly-Reformed are not above reminding us that theirs is the largest church in an area or the largest conference of its kind. Bigness is not a necessary sign of sell-out, smallness not a necessary mark of purity, any more than bigness is a necessary indicator of excellence or smallness a necessary indicator of faithlessness.

The issue here is not numbers, but motives, means and ends. Why do we gather in this way and with what desires and appetites? How is such a crowd gathered, and what is it cohering around? What is the purpose and outcome of such a gathering?

To be sure, out of such a great throng there will be those who disappoint. There might be some who are simply along for the ride. There may be some who like the glitz and glamour, and who are there simply to gawk and gawp at their heroes. Perhaps, under different, harder circumstances, there would be some who would turn away. But how many more, we hope, would ask, "To whom else should we go? Christ Jesus has the words of eternal life."

Suspicion? Yes, there are many compromisers in the world, but Christ has said that if he is lifted up, he will draw many to himself.

Sneering? I may not agree with all that is said and done, but God scorns the scornful, and gives grace to the humble.

Sourness? We may never gather or preach to such a crowd, but if Christ is preached, I will rejoice!

If this is a gathering of those who are together for the gospel, who have drawn together not just to hear some guru spout but to hear Christ proclaimed, who are united by the truth of a crucified Christ, and who want to know how to make him known, I want to assume the best. If this is taking place in groups of eight or eighteen here and there, it is a good thing, if we take to heart the things that we hear and believe and live accordingly. If it is taking place in a group of eight thousand, it is a good thing, if they go back to their churches with faith and life purer and better defined. Whether we are larger or smaller, let us search our hearts, consider our motives, means and ends, and ensure that truly it is the crucified and risen Christ in whom we glory, around whom we gather and for whom we go.