Q. How do smaller Assemblies feature in the bigger picture?
A. When Jesus fed ‘the five thousand’, the number could actually have been larger than double 5,000 according to the ‘besides women and children’ comment. While the Lord appeals to the whole world, and draws crowds in some instances, He deals primarily with the individual and then corporately with the Body of Christ through local Assemblies.
It is significant that He made the multitude sit down in companies of 50 and 100 to attend to their immediate physical need. We do not wish to suggest that large churches are taboo but the norm in the New Testament seems to have been small communities.
The New Testament places strong emphasis on house churches: Acts 2:46; 5:42; 16:34,40; 18:8; 20:20; 21:8; Rom.16:6; 1 Cor.1:11; 16:19; Col.4:15; 2 Tim.3:6; Philemon 2; Titus 1:11; 2 Jn.10. This list is impressive. With the exception of Jerusalem, it seems likely that most of those early ecclesias could fit into a domestic ‘house’. The remarkable lack of archaeological discoveries of big Christian meeting places pre AD70 confirms this. Thus the whole Corinth ecclesia could fit inside one house (Paul wrote Rom.16:23 from Corinth).
It is true that ‘a crowd draws a crowd’ and many quote this as a means of evangelism. However, it is equally true that people may be attracted to ‘more successful’(numerically) churches because of ‘the vibe’, the status, the activities and simply being in on the latest fads. All of these considerations, if not downrightly carnal, are not spiritual. Many a lamenting backslider confesses to having been lost in the crowd where accountability and spiritual growth become withered and permit coldness of heart and drifting from the Lord. Billy Graham mourned the ‘Bible illiteracy’ he found in larger churches.
In a small church the believer is easily noticed and cared for, held to account, trained for and deployed into ministry. Coldness and Discouragement are seen and addressed sooner and the family care of the Word becomes more effective. On the other hand, fall-off rates are actually quite high in large churches whereas the loss of a family or one person from a small church is a major sadness – as it should be.
We thank God for the ‘big churches’ that keep the faith and operate on biblical lines but, to answer your question, there is no doubt that small communities fit perfectly into Jesus’ scheme of things.