Working with the Smaller Groups

   Since 1975, God has blessed me to work “full time” with His children, and to seek and save the lost. During these several years, God has permitted me to speak the gospel to large crowds (the most was over 200 at one time), and to speak the gospel in several states other than my home. But as one brother gladly reminded me, “You’ll never be a big NAME preacher, but you are a big FRAME preacher!” That’s fine by me! There’s no need for fame or fortune for a gospel preacher.

   There certainly is nothing unscriptural about working with large congregations of the Lord’s church! No one knows the numerical size of any of the churches of Christ mentioned in the New Testament. There are comparative statements like “multitudes” and “houses” etc., but the Spirit never directed the recording of any numerical size. Yet in the present-day, the size of an audience somehow influences our thinking regarding the strength of the Lord’s church. It just ain’t so!

     Fortunately for me, God has kept me working with rural churches of Christ where a crowd of one hundred to one hundred fifty is a rare number! Frankly, that attendance never arrived until several years of hard work had been expended in teaching and preaching the gospel to those outside the ark of safety! Usually, the average attendance of churches where I’ve labored began with thirty or forty souls, and only after several years of labor in the Lord’s cause (not my own, but the labors of all faithfully involved in the local work) did numerical growth result. Then, as time and chance happeneth to all men (Ecclesiastes 9:11), death, job requirements, college, marriage, etc. took its toll on the numerical growth, and the cycle was restarted!

     While it is an honor to help youthful minds reach maturity and successfully transfer into their adult lives with their faithfulness in God remaining their top priority, these are forced to leave the rural area in pursuit of opportunities that simply no longer exist in the smaller areas of America. Consequently, those left behind are the parents and grandparents whose lives are too well established to leave, and too old to want to. Unfortunately, the small rural community is comprised of souls of the same circumstance. Worse, many in these smaller towns are not only materially settled into their established lives, but they are spiritually settled into their practices as well. “We love and respect you for what you believe and practice, so give us the same courtesy” is their reply to our earnest pleadings of “Come study with us.” It’s not impossible to change such minds from errant convictions to God’s eternal truth, but it is quite difficult! Maybe that’s one reason God has kept me in smaller places: I don’t mind the challenges of working with the “older generation.” They also need God’s truth.

     It’s a blessing to work with smaller groups. It doesn’t take long to learn the characteristics of each soul, and quickly become family instead of “just friends.” What a blessing to cherish these souls as we do. The time will come when either they’ll be able to comfort you or you’ll need to comfort them: and only true love can approach needy souls with genuine comfort at such times.   

     As well, working with smaller groups usually affords more time in discussing the weightier matters of the law. For several years it has been noted that folks in these smaller rural groups are in no hurry to quit discussing God’s word. Oh yes, in larger groups a few minutes overtime isn’t critical provided it doesn’t happen with regularity. But that’s my point: so often in these smaller places, the hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) has no limits with time! What may be planned as an hour’s study can easily become an hour and a half or longer, and few if any complain! Further proof is found when regardless of Sunday morning, evening, or Wednesday night, the conversations with one another often either keep us from starting on time or after services, visits last almost as long as the worship service lasted! That’s called fellowship!

     Several years ago, a very wise preacher observed these same realities and noted, “The reason many of these smaller, rural churches are stronger spiritually than larger churches of Christ is they have to depend on each other for survival and fight harder to retain the truth so others will see they just won’t quit!” No, larger doesn’t always mean stronger! Biblically, God’s people are always in the minority, but His faithful ones never lose! Remember Gideon? Often, it is from the smaller churches that greater spiritual opportunities exist. There are more opportunities to learn to pray, lead the singing, serve at the Lord’s table, publicly read scripture or preach. Even the women tend to find opportunities to increase their service to God in various righteous actions.

     So yes, I’m blessed to work with smaller groups, and I’m thankful for it! It will never make a “well known” preacher out of any man, but it will fashion a “much-needed preacher” from any man who wants to dedicate his life to serving God by saving souls! It will always turn a young man into a seasoned man of God if that child of God will avail himself of the several opportunities offered him! It will never make a “Deborah” out of every woman who attends there, but it will certainly make several “Queen Esther’s” who realize they are here for such a time as this. (Esther 4:14) It emphatically will train the younger ladies to become virtuous women! (Proverbs 31:10 – 31).

     Yes, there is strength among smaller churches of Christ; perhaps much more than many realize. Then again, the strength of any local work must receive the scrutiny of each soul’s strength. If yours, like mine, is weak in any matter, it is our personal responsibility to make the needed corrections to become strong in the Lord and the power of His might! (Ephesians 6:10)