|Empty or Full??|
- The pastor is the primary caregiver.
- The leaders lacks a strategy.
- True leaders aren’t leading.
- Volunteers are unempowered.
- The governance team micromanages.
- Too many meetings.
- Too many events and programs that lead nowhere.
- The pastor suffers from a deire to please everybody.
But these eight -- helpful as they might be -- gave me pause. Not the eight items so much as the stated goal. Breaking the 200 attendance mark. Is that a worthy goal? I don't think so -- especially for Quaker congregations. And so I offer my 8 reasons most Quaker groups shouldn't even break the 100 attendance mark.
- Spiritual Intimacy -- I've been in some glorious and large meetings for worship. One at FGC Gathering this summer comes to mind. But for the most part, my experience of truly deep, gathered worship has occurred in groups of less than 100. Sitting close, seeing and knowing everyone there -- their joys, sorrows, concerns, hopes -- seems to lend itself to an increased spiritual intimacy. Both with each other and the Great Lover of our Souls.
- Listening Together -- since we gather to listen to God together -- and maybe even be given a message to share to those gathered, the dynamics of listening well together seem to me to be closely related to the number gathered. There are enough of us afflicted with monkey-mind and thoughts scattering around that the power of those who are truly centered and communing with the Living Christ is more easily defused the greater the number of people who come together. The power of those gathered wafts over and around a smaller group, drawing it together more easily than a larger one.
- Community -- how many people can we really know? I mean really? I am blessed with a bazillion Facebook friends, but I am not in deep spiritual community (or any other type of deep community) with them. I attended a mega-church once with some family members who attended there. They were greeted with, "Are you new here?" That was after a couple of years of attending. Perhaps a goodly number of the congregants there feel connected with and in community with each other. But I fear not. Smaller congregations can engender a deeper sense of spiritual community precisely because they can both know each other and be known by each other.
- Trust -- when we know each other, especially each others' spiritual and life stories, then that intimacy and community builds trust. We trust the others' motives and reasons for doing things -- even things we disagree with them on. We cut each other a bit more slack. We learn to live in love, not fear.
- Working Together -- all of us. When we're smallish, we all chip in to do the work that God has called us all to do. For example, when my meeting -- West Newton Friends -- decided to do Quaker Quest in 2012, we did it together. Everyone. Some were presenters, some were hosts, some made food, some did childcare, some prayed for the efforts. It was a whole group effort -- one that would be difficult to achieve in a congregation of 200. Since we were all involved, we all felt ownership, to some degree, of the program and its outcome.
- Work That Needs to be Done -- smaller groups, when they are alive, not dying and form-driven, have the chance to do only the work that needs to be done. So what that "Faith and Practice" says that we need X number of committees with X number of people on them serving X number of years? No way. There's not enough of us to do that without all of us serving on 27 committees. Instead we do the work that we feel God is calling us to do. Sunday school teachers teach because they feel led -- not because a nominating committee asked them. Same with other programs or projects we undertake. We look at what God is calling us to do with the people we have and the space we have at this time. We do what we're called to do -- and nothing else. I heard recently of a Quaker meeting that only had two committees -- Us and Them. Us is pastoral care, worship, etc. Them is outreach, missions work, etc. Hmmm... what a concept.
- Growing Deep Together -- our adult Sunday school consists of all adults in the meeting. Where that limits the offering of electives, it does keep us together spiritually. We study together, talk together, pray together, and learn together. And good work comes out of it -- as when we all studied (even the kids!) the causes and possible solutions to hunger issues. As class ended one Sunday we decided -- together -- that next spring we would offer a community garden on our property as a faithful way to respond to hunger in our own township. There was little discussion because we all had been studying this issue together and realized that we needed to do a witness together.
- Missional -- being small gives us a chance to think missionally. There's nothing wrong with numerical growth. I hope our meeting grows in numbers as well as in spiritual depth as we are doing now. But I also hope that as we do, instead of worrying where we'll fit the hordes who will join, that we will say our building and our faith community can be accommodate 75 people. When #76 begins attending, we should look at spinning off a new group and empowering them to to be God's Friends in a new place.
No. I don't believe there is any virtue in being small. And if we are not growing numerically, as well as spiritually, then we are not being faithful to the Good News which has been entrusted to us and which has made such a difference in our lives. But I, even after being raised a good (well, I wasn't very good at being good) Evangelical Friend who studied the Bible diligently, do not recall one time where Jesus is recorded in the Gospels as saying, "Wherever 200 or 300 are gathered, I am with them."