When I asked a German church planter how large his church was, he responded: “We have 90 people meeting in cells.” That’s an interesting answer. Most American pastors would immediately have indicated the size of their worship service. I then discovered he was planting out of a mother church. “What is the size of the mother church?” “They have 360 people gathered in cells.”
How you answer the question “How big is your church?” says a lot about your view of what church is. If you answer with regard to the number of people involved in discipling communities, I think you have something a lot closer to the New Testament view of church. Jesus didn’t command us to plant churches. He commanded to make disciples. Those disciples then naturally gather together, and those gatherings are what the New Testament calls churches… even if it’s just in twos and threes.
While we definitely are not the ones who built the church, Jesus is, the church is not an optional addition to our discipleship. It is an integral part of it. It strikes me that one of the most dangerous aspects of modern Christian life in America is the sense that the church is “the voluntary assembly of like minded individuals.” We are none of those things.
As the followers of Jesus made disciples, they gathered together in communities called churches. And there is definitely connectedness seen in the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. I am most definitely committed to the church. It’s important that we make sure the DNA of Jesus (Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples) is at the core of our churches. And the structures of church need to maximize the capacity to live out these values. There are places in the world where Christianity is illegal and gatherings of disciples are reduced to 2 or 3. Nevertheless, it is still fully church. I didn’t intend to imply that the church is optional… I’m just redefining how we “count” church.
Likewise, I was not implying that those places wherein the gathering of only a few is not fully the body of Christ. I guess I am just wrestling with a number of folks who seem to believe the church is an optional addition to faith and dependent on preference rather than ground in the DNA of Jesus and the very essence of our life.