A few weeks ago, I traveled down to Washington D.C. to attend a Christian women’s conference hosted at a large church just outside the city. Having never been to this particular conference before, I had very little idea of what to expect going into the event. When I heard it would take place at a church, I pictured a slightly larger version of New Life; a fairly intimate setting, with room for a couple hundred women. As my sister and I inched forward in line for the parking garage that would house the cars of the 1200+ women attending the conference, I quickly realized my assumptions had been pretty off base.
This was what I’d heard referred to as a “mega-church” and it more than lived up to that designation. If the sprawling campus and fancy sound equipment weren’t enough to convince me, the massive sanctuary space big enough to fit three New Life sanctuaries certainly did. I had never seen anything like it.
I have to admit, I was a little jealous at first. As someone who works for and attends a much smaller church, I found myself dreaming about all the resources at one’s disposal to affect change when the scale is that large. On the first night of the conference, the keynote speaker asked anyone who was ready right then to commit their lives to Jesus to please stand up. About thirty women rose from their seats; it was incredibly powerful to see that kind of immediate and sizable response. I couldn’t help but hold it up against the baptisms that were supposed to take place that weekend at my own church for which no one signed up.
That Sunday, I attended my sister’s not quite as large, but still pretty huge church. The band was incredible, the pastor’s message was outstanding, and I was blown away by the number of ministries, small groups, and service opportunities available to the members. It was a rare chance to be surrounded by such a large group of people who believe the same thing and I loved every minute of it.
Even so, the tiny church in the smallest state in the country was the one that I couldn’t wait to get back to.
Though I sometimes get my head turned by the prospect of doing things on a grander scale with more immediate results, if I really pay attention, it’s so easy to see God working in our small church. It’s in the way that a tissue is handed across the aisle to comfort a fellow churchgoer during the service. It’s in the way that someone steps into the communion line for the very first time. It’s in the way that someone stops being introduced as, “my friend from church,” and simply becomes, “my friend.”
It’s in the way that birthdays are remembered and recipes are shared and houses are opened up for small group gatherings. It’s in the text messages and coffee meet-ups, closed door confessions and church-wide celebrations. It’s in all of those tiny details that we often consider church work, but not necessarily God’s work.
During the last conference session, the final speaker stood with the podium in front of her and what can only be described as a rug gone wrong displayed behind her. It was a mess of threads knotted together seemingly at random, producing an unappealing riot of colors and textures. None of the other speakers had used any kind of backdrop and, to me, this one seemed like an odd choice, ugly as it was.
“God,” she said, “is an artist and we, His people, are His masterpiece. Even when it’s not readily apparent, God is working all things together for our good.” As she turned the backdrop around to reveal a stunning tapestry, she explained that God always works from the backside of the tapestry, taking all our various, seemingly unrelated threads and weaving them together into a work of art. Through our very temporal view, we only see a mess of tiny threads, but God, in His infinite wisdom, sees the whole beautiful picture.
I think that’s what I have to remind myself of as the member of a small church. The tiny details may not look like much when I examine them up close, but when I step back, I can see the story God is weaving at New Life. I can see the infinitesimal steps being taken toward Jesus every time a message hits home. I can see the hearts and minds being changed as people slowly reconsider their ideas about church. I can see the significance of one person going all in for Jesus, even if we’ll never have 30 people committing their lives to him at one time. I can see that, while God is surely working in those mega-churches, He is just as certainly working here, producing a small-church culture all its own.
As Pastor Keith said at the beginning of this series, “we often underestimate what we can accomplish over a long period of time with a few people.” Though we may not be working on quite the same scale as those mega-churches, we as a small church are slowly moving more people in our community toward Jesus. That is no less significant here than it is in a church with thousands of members. In the big picture of God’s love and grace, New Life is a necessary thread, without which the tapestry would be incomplete. If we want to see where we fit in, all we have to do is turn the tapestry around to reveal the masterpiece.