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Small is beautiful

Last Sunday I had the opportunity of seeing my ministry branch out beyond the shores of the UK and reach across the nations; Mercia in Spain to be precise. It all sounds rather grand doesn’t it? However, it wasn’t about jetting off to Spain (or anywhere else for that matter), and was more about whether our Zoom call with a small Christian Community led by friends who moved to Spain a few years ago, would remain connected as storm Corrie raged all around us here in Scotland!

We spent a great morning together as we looked at ways in which we can become more attentive to where God is already at work in our communities, be that in rural Mercia, or indeed North Wales, from where some of the group joined us. As I reflected on our time together I concluded one of the reasons the morning worked so well with plenty of interaction, was the size of the group; it was small. Even though we gathered from different nations, and even though we gathered online and not in person, we worshiped, we prayed, and we shared enthusiastically together.

Coupled with my international experience of last week, I was further struck (and heartily encouraged) by an article written by Gavin Calver which appeared in last Saturday’s Times Newspaper. Calver asserted that it’s not time to write the church off just yet and spoke of how in ‘church buildings and school halls, in warehouses and homes, on playing fields and over garden fences, Christians all over the nation are innovating, gathering to worship together, sharing their faith, feeding the poor and caring for the stranger.’* Again, on reflection, and perhaps especially in the rural context, I concluded that many of these seeds of post-pandemic missional creativity are likely to take the form of small groups.

"It’s not time to write the church off just yet"

Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us, after all Jesus chose 12 disciples not 120, and the oft quoted Matthew 18:20 verse still holds true; two or three can make a difference, God is with us in our small numbers just as he was with Aquila and Priscilla in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:5), and Archippus as he led a house church (Philemon 1:2). Many of us in the rural context may well be involved in all manner of small groups week by week (I’d love to hear what some of you are up to), and it’s my desire to encourage you as you serve God in that context. However, might it be that all too often numbers attending at our every Sunday mid-morning church-as-we-know-it gathering has become over important at the expense of these many, creative small groups? Indeed, I’m aware of some situations where small groups around the ragged edges of gathered church are almost viewed with suspicion - quite sad really, as that's very often where the creativity is.

In Zechariah 4 we encounter Zerubbabel being cheered on in his building work as God promises His presence will be with him by His Spirit, and in verse 10 we read ‘do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.’ Might you this week be encouraged by the small seeds of hope you’re planting in groups all around our nation and beyond. One final comment; I’m by no means having a downer on larger week by week gatherings, of course they have their place, but I sense God is doing a new thing on the ragged edges and margins of church life which is often in small groups, and is always exciting!

Alistair Birkett

Director: Scotland & Northern England


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