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Posts Tagged ‘church growth through shrinkage’

'Cotton Harvest' photo (c) 2009, Kimberly Vardeman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/In God’s big scheme of things, getting smaller as a church might not necessarily be bad news, even though it’s no fun.  It may be a necessary step on the way to new life.

Recently I read the story of what Clarence Jordan, founder of the Koinonia Community, once experienced more than fifty years ago during the segregation era when he went to preach a revival at a church in South Carolina.  When he got there, he found a well-blended congregation of several hundred black people and white people worshiping together. Jordan was amazed.  After the worship service, he asked the church’s pastor how this had come about.

The pastor described how, when he started, the church had about twenty people.  When the congregation couldn’t find another preacher, this layman volunteered to preach.  He said, “I got up the next Sunday, opened my Bible and I put my finger on the verse that says, ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female but all are one in Christ.’ I commenced to preachin’ on that. I told them how Jesus makes all kinds of people one. When I finished that service, them deacons wanted to talk to me in private. They told me they didn’t want to hear that kind of preachin’ no more.”

The old man went on to describe how he continued to preach along these lines, and the church shrank down to four people.  He said, “I preached that church down to four people.  And I found out that sometimes revival happens not when people come in to the church, but when people go out of the church. If people were going to stand in the way of the moving of the Spirit of God, it’s better they go somewhere else. And after that, we decided that we wuz going to build the church on people who were actually serious about following Jesus. And that’s when it started to grow.”

Hmm.  Will we trust God to build our congregations on a few people who are serious about following Jesus, or will we seek to quiet our anxiety with larger numbers of spiritual spectators?

There’s a coda to Jordan’s story: After the service that night, Jordan rode home with a young member of the church who drove 70 miles each way every Sunday to worship with that congregation.    This member was a professor of English literature at the University of South Carolina.  Jordan asked, “Why do you go to a church that has that old hillbilly preacher? You have a Ph.D. from Yale. And he can’t even utter a single grammatically correct sentence.”

The professor answered, “Sir, I go to that church because that preacher preaches the gospel and this church lives it.” (From The Cotton Patch Evidence: The story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (1942-1970).)

Lord, help us to preach your gospel, and help our churches to live it!

*****

This story reminds me of the story of Gideon’s army in Judges.  See my sermon on that text:  “Onward, Christian Soldiers?”

See also this post: “Called to get smaller???” 

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