I resist the trend toward megachurches, preferring smaller palaces out of the spotlight. i never fully understood why until I cam across this paradoxical observation in G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics : ” The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world…The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.”
Precisely! Given a choice, I tend to hang out with folks like me: people who have college degrees, drink only Starbucks dark roast coffee, listen to classical music, and buy their cars based on EPA gas mileage ratings. Yet after a short while I get bored with people like me. Smaller groups( and smaller churches) force me to rub shoulders with everybody else.
Henri Nouwen defines “community” as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, which forms a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.
The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. The apostle Paul waxed eloquent on this “mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God.” By forming a community out of diverse members, Paul said, we have the opportunity to capture the attention of the world and even the supernatural world beyond(Ephesians 3:9-10).
In some ways the church has sadly failed in this assignment. (Yes, Billy Graham, eleven o’clock Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America.) Still, even all-white or all-black churches show diversity in age, education, and economic class. Church is the one place I visit that brings together generations: infants still held at their mother’s breasts, children who squirm and giggle at al the wrong times, responsible adults who know how to act appropriately at all times, and senior citizens who may drift asleep if the preacher drones on too long.
I deliberately seek a congregation comprising people not like, and I find such people less avoidable in smaller churches.