For years I used to teach using an image of a funnel,
to help shape ministry. At the top of the funnel is the wider community and as it narrows the volume decreases but the concentration increases. At the very narrowest spot in the funnel is the cross. It represents the cruciform life, what Jesus called “the narrow way”. Numbers are only relevant at the uppermost reaches of the funnel but concentration is the key in the formation of cross shaped Christianity (and can there be any other true form of the faith?).
Now I no longer teach in formal settings and in a world obsessed with numbers I am content with smallness and its potential for ‘high concentration’. When people ask me how our ministry is going they often inquire about numbers. I feel their disappointment when I share the numbers but sense the tide turn as I begin to tell the story of what God is doing in folks’ lives.
For the past year or so Linda and I have been attending a “Worship and Bible Study” which takes place after a community meal at the Out Flow Shelter. After supper we watch the crowd dwindle down to a handful who choose to stay for worship. Often we share communion as well as the worship and study. We find these the most meaningful worship experiences in our week. Phil, who leads this is a busy man and sometimes he cannot make this mid-week time and he asks me to “Phil” in. This week a small handful of us remained. I only had a few hours’ notice so I shared what I had been learning in my personal devotions that day. I am so glad for that spiritual preparation! As I was speaking a woman came in breathlessly. I felt the prompting to ask her if she had something to share. She had come because she felt the Spirit’s prompting to pray with a group of other believers. She had learned of a stabbing and a victim in critical condition. She was bursting to pray for this situation. I invited her to lead us and she did. She then apologised but said she couldn’t stay. She rushed out again. We all had a sense that we had become involved in something much bigger than ourselves! A large gathering may not have been able to make room for this but we could turn our little coracle quickly to accommodate the Spirit.
We have a small house church meeting at which people share in tears and at length. We have patience to hear each other because we are small. These times are more intense than any larger gatherings.
In a world obsessed with numbers I have become content with smallness. Society may never know the eternal consequences of obscure small ministry, but society is not our audience. The one who began his earthly incarnation as a single cell in a virgin’s womb illustrates to us “Do not despise small things!”