We recently visited a church of twenty people. They invited us to stay for lunch, and by the end we knew names.
A week earlier we’d attended a much larger gathering. Two or three people greeted us, but mostly it was like sitting in a movie theater — hundreds of people watching the stage.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with large churches or right about small ones. What matters is shepherding those who attend.
Shepherding twenty people seems doable. I can imagine praying for each of them daily, and moving as a group toward “completeness in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). That said, keeping in close and regular contact with twenty people is not easy. Make it fifty, a hundred, or thousands, and how would you do it?
Back in the days of World War Two, The Navigators ministry in Honolulu was thriving. They had thousands of seamen from the Pacific coming to Christ and looking for growth. Short-handed, they herded them into classrooms for teaching. However, while classrooms accommodated the volume, the teachers did most of the learning.*
This crisis of growth prompted The Navigators to embrace a “pass it along” approach based on 2 Timothy 2:2:
What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
How would this work in a church setting? To be honest, I’m not sure. Westerners avoid “personal” and trend toward private. Yet, most of us who follow Jesus Christ want to grow in our relationship with Him — and with others who follow Him. We want to grow, and to do it together. So, whether it happens in 2 Timothy 2:2 relationships or small groups or a culture of intentional hospitality, personal shepherding still seems the crucial challenge to solve in the local church.
* from Daws; pages 262-263