American Christianity in particular, it seems, has an enduring fascination with numbers. How many members? How many Baptisms? How many in the youth group? I suppose at the heart of it is the kind of American competitiveness that is so common in industry. It certainly is not a biblically based approach. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus as making the point that whenever we gather, even in very small numbers his Spirit abides with us.
I am often asked “How many were in church today?” or now, more frequently, “How many were on Zoom today?” Now there is nothing wrong with such questions and we do well to keep track of how many and who is with us in worship. Any responsible community will be attentive to its members and how well and thoroughly they are participating in the life of the community. But is another matter altogether to begin to think that larger numbers always suggest success or more faithfulness. Indeed large congregations are generally an invention of the twentieth century. For most of its 2000 year history Christianity has survived in congregation numbering, at best, a couple of hundred people.
Faithfulness, of course, can come in all-size packages. One can find vibrant large congregations and dull uninspired congregations. It is possible too to find the reverse- a large congregation grown turgid and dull while a small congregation may be lively and engaged. It is the quality of our fellowship, service and worship that counts not the sheer numbers of participants.
We have been blessed in recent months with a number of infant Baptisms. It is my hope that we, as a congregation will, in keeping with our baptismal vows, serve these children by prayer and example. It is my hope that each of these families will find a spiritual home among us. Nonetheless, I do not believe for a moment that God’s presence depends upon large numbers. When we gather in small or large numbers in Christ’s name, God is in our midst.
In these summer days, as we are visited in worship by those vacationing “at the shore” let us offer a welcome and a spiritual home. But let us not be diminished when our numbers flag and there are fewer present, for Christ’s promise is sure- and he can be found in our midst!
Yours for the journey,