Most churches of Christ are smaller, and often this is by intention. In fact, this third congregation that we visited is uniquely special to us because many of its members once worshiped with us at the congregation we served for 28 years. The Sunset church of Christ was actually the last of three groups that spun off our congregation in Beaverton over the course of our work there. and while heartbreaking, this last departure was mandatory due to our numbers consistently being over fire code capacity.
There are some advantages to smaller congregations, of course. For one thing, it helps avoid the consumer mentality of many present-day denominations that one of their own preachers, Francis Chan, acknowledges and addresses in his book “Letters to the Church”. Rather than coming to take in a performance, members are more likely to come to services to pour out a heart full of worship. With a few dozen members rather than a few hundred or even thousands, there is more time to check in with each member present to encourage each other and look for opportunities of service. In smaller congregations, every single member is needed for the proper functioning of the body and is sorely missed when they are not present. As I watched this congregation function over the years, what I’ve been most impressed with is their ability to prevent souls that were weak and drifting from falling through the cracks. So I called my friend Monique Ward, a fellow worker with me during our years attending together at the Beaverton congregation, to see what she thought might be the reason for Sunset’s success in this area.
As we spoke, I was a little surprised to learn that they did not necessarily have a formal “system” in place for checking in with one another. She explained that the church family there had simply taken to heart the scriptures and lessons found in the “one another passages” such as Jesus’s words, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another...By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” ( John 13:22, 34), and Apostle Paul’s inspired instruction to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor...Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” (Romans 12:10,16)
Monique mentioned having compassion on those who were weaker and seeing everyone as “souls on a journey” while having the love of Christ for them — deeply desiring their spiritual success and the eternal reward that follows. This clear perspective seems key, doesn’t it? When we don’t expect everyone to be at the same stage of spiritual growth because everyone’s journey is at a different stage, clearly this perspective lends itself to patience.
She said most members habitually look for those who are on the fringes, make it a point to engage them in conversation each time they see them and do their best to genuinely get to know them. They make it a priority to invest time in others and keep their antenna up, looking for even the non-verbal cues that would indicate that someone may be in some kind of need.
What a big difference a little habit can make! And while even the most conscientious congregation cannot stand in the way of another’s personal decision to return to the dark, addictive world of spiritual self-destruction, sometimes the solutions to big problems are quite simple, aren’t they?
* Note: the Sunset church of Christ that once met in Hillsboro Oregon, has since merged with the Forest Grove Church of Christ to form the Cornelius Church of Christ.