Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. Acts 5:42
As a campus minister and pastor, I have a lot of conversations with people about their involvement in church, fellowship groups, and small groups. I’m noticing an increasing trend towards people opting in or out of these based on convenience, preference, and sometimes even belief.
Some people love a large group experience, whether it be a Sunday gathering, or a large fellowship group meeting during the week. They love the crush of people, the loud & talented worship band, the skilled speaker. They love the high production value. But a small or medium-sized group? Meh. Not so much. It’s too slow, too boring, too rough. “I’ll skip it.”
Others love the small to medium-sized group experience. The love the ability to actually meet and get to know a group of people without being lost and overwhelmed in the crowd. They embrace the intimacy of the setting. They value the deep relationships that can form. They know the importance of not just sitting back and listening as we tend to do in large group settings, but of contributing themselves. But a large group? Meh. Not so much. It’s too big, too loud, too impersonal. “I’ll skip it.”
Others don’t care for either of these. If they had their druthers, they would simply go with “Jesus and me.” Why do they need a building or an institution to meet God? the thinking goes. So they opt out of gatherings of any size, to go it alone.
What do we make of this? Is it ok for people to opt in or out of Sunday church gatherings, or Life Groups, or anything else as they see fit? Why or why not?
I call these “Body Life” questions. Anyone who would call themselves a Christian needs to know that they are part of the Body of Christ. That is, they are not only connected to Jesus, but to other people. Therefore, their decisions impact other people. Their presence is felt, and so is their absence. We’re not only connected to Jesus and other people, but in a very real sense, we belong to each other.
So in light of that mutual belonging, one thing we have to challenge: the deeply held conviction that “I know what’s best for me. I’m the last word, and the only word on that.” I find people are increasingly surprised that I would even ask questions and challenge some of their assumptions. Well, it’s part of my job. But it’s yours, too. No one is as wise as they think they are. We all (myself included) need other people to speak into our lives. That’s part of Body Life.
So don’t assume that “I just feel like…” or “This is what works best for me” is the end of the conversation, or even a legitimate answer to the question of why you do what you do. You’ve got to bring more than that.
As I talk with people who would choose one form of church or Body Life over another, I’m reminded of the biblical examples we have been given. Large group and small group. The early church met “in the Temple courts and from house to house.” Jesus preached to the large crowds, but also formed his small group of 12 men. David led the armies, but also had his band of mighty men. Church history shows that when one form of Body Life is emphasized at the expense of another, it inevitably springs up and makes a powerful comeback. Why is that? Because God designed all forms of Body Life, big and small, and the gates of Hell won’t prevail against any of them. We shouldn’t act as if it’s our prerogative to choose one and not the other. All are biblical. All are important.
Meeting regularly with other Christians is necessary. The author of Hebrews makes this clear: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” Why not? “…but let us encourage one another.” (Heb. 10:25).
The problem with the typical mindset out there is that people start with their personal preferences, and work from there. Biblically speaking, this is upside down. We must start with what loves and honors God. This is how we fulfill the Greatest Commandment, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. God wants his people to gather to worship together, pray together, study his Word together, serve together, and grow together.
In doing so, we also fulfill the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We do all these together. Occasionally people will say, “But I can get so much out of listening to podcasts, studying on my own, doing things at my own pace and timing.”
Have you ever considered that doing things based on OTHER people’s schedule, pace, and preference is part of the design? Community is the messy practice of being drawn out of ourselves, and dying to ourselves, for the sake of others.
That includes simply showing up. If you’re not there at Life Group, we miss your perspective. We miss what you have to share. You may be exegeting diamonds of brilliance in your personal quiet time, but you didn’t share that with us. If you’re not there at large group/church, we also miss you. I know you don’t believe that, but we do. We miss you cramming into the seats. We miss your singing with us. We miss the sense that God is doing something here today, and we’re ALL here to hear it. You can’t capture that via a podcast. There are still some things where “you had to be there.”
Remember, you’re part of a Body. Your decisions don’t just impact you—they impact the rest of the Body, for good or ill. Let’s choose what gives life to others and honors God.