In this Refrigerator Rights series, I’m exploring what it means to be the relational church Jesus intended—‘cause it’s all about loving God and others. God’s been trying to tell us all along, we were created for community with God and others. We all need various relational associations to feel secure, settled, content, happy, and be the church He intended.
We need Large-size gatherings that help the whole church learn God’s relational ways, and create shared values for unity and connection. We need Medium-size, extended-family-like gatherings which we’ll explore today. This is what Gateway Networks are trying to do—20-70 people focused on a geography or affinity (other churches may have ministries or classes that function this way). We also need a Small Group-size (family-like) gatherings of 8-12 who have increasing Refrigerator rights. And we need Intimate-size gatherings of 1-3 Spiritual Running Partners who know all the smelly junk in our fridge—full Refrigerator Rights and full transparency. I used to think the small group and large group was enough to be all God intended the church to be, but I’ve realized this Medium-sized, Social-size gathering of 20-70 is essential.
Caught Up in Relational Momentum
Think about Jesus and his ministry. Mark records Jesus creating relational momentum by serving needs, teaching, and throwing parties: “The man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this before!’ Then Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus [Matthew] sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (Mark 2:12-15).
Jesus taught 10,000+ on hillside Gatherings, but He also had a growing relational momentum gathering around him. Jesus and his forming small group (of 12 disciples) went into the world around them, meeting needs as they presented themselves. Jesus healed, served, fed, set free, showed compassion to the presenting needs around him. And Jesus and his followers went to dinners, wedding parties, and social gatherings like this one at Matthew’s house. The result was an increasing relational momentum building as the wild, crazy, sinful world began to orbit around Jesus closer and closer.
Jesus was forming what we at Gateway call a “Network” of 20-70 people in this Social Space. There was permeability to Jesus’ Medium-sized group that was not true of his small group (12 disciples) or 3 Spiritual Running Partners (Peter, James, and John). Jesus’ small group was not open to all, but His Network was like an open party on wheels—where even “disreputable sinners” were drawn into the circle of life and service created by Jesus, and it changed them.
Through our Networks, Medium-sized ministry gatherings, or other Social-sized (20-70 people) gatherings, we need to be thinking about several things—are we creating permeable space where all kinds of people can come and go freely, interacting with the Body of Christ? This space will be “messy” and religious people might not like how many “sinners” start orbiting around the Body of Christ (in Mark 2 the Pharisees rebuked Jesus for creating relational momentum with “sinners”), but following Jesus means building relational momentum like He did.
Then Jesus got his small group and a whole Network of 70+ people involved serving others—and don’t miss this—within a year or so of following Him! Jesus had his followers meeting needs like He did, “Jesus said, ‘You feed them’” (Mark 6:37). Within two years, He sent the whole Network of 70 out to do the exact ministry He was doing–serving needs and teaching about God’s ways (Matthew 10, Luke 10). Jesus even had some of them baptizing: “it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples” (John 4:2). Jesus esteemed and valued women who were part of His traveling Network, and they used their gifts and abilities to serve and further His mission (see Luke 8:1-3, 10:38-42). Jesus even seemed comfortable getting Judas involved overseeing the money (John 13:39), even though Judas never believed and ended up stealing from them.
In our Medium-sized gatherings, do we not only create permeable relational momentum with both followers of Christ and “disreputable sinners,” but do we also invite more and more people into serving others like Jesus did? I find that many people who seem far from God start to explore faith as they do life with the Body of Christ (in this open social-size space), and as they serve alongside Christians being like Jesus. Maybe that’s partially what Jesus meant when He said, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).
Are we willing to takes risks to get people involved serving one another and the world around us? This Medium-sized gathering is the ideal space to get people using their gifts as the Body (1 Corinthians 12) to serve each other and the world around us. And are we willing to get people involved serving others early on?
I don’t think this means we put people in places of responsibility or spiritual leadership when they are not ready (Paul warns Timothy against this in 1 Timothy 5:22), or that we let people hurt others without confronting it (Matthew 18 tells us otherwise), but we must take risks like Jesus did to get people involved, knowing there will be fall out–but there will also be fruit.
Connecting with God and Others
Finally, Network-sized gatherings of 20-70 people seems to be the ideal space to help people meet others, connect relationally, and ultimately find faith or find a small group to help them grow deep spiritual roots. Though Jesus focused most of His time on the 12, there were others called “disciples” or “followers of Jesus” who were growing and connecting with God and each other.
Ultimately, Jesus’ strategy was relational—just as He spent time building into the 12 within the context of this larger Network—His final command was for them to “make disciples” of others just like He did (presumably to take his pattern of investing spiritually in a small group). Baptizing them and teaching them to observe all Jesus commanded—including multiplying this relational development of others until His spiritual life spreads life-by-life to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).
That’s what we’ll explore next post. How are you seeing this Network-size, Social-size Gathering space work to create relational momentum, mobilize serving, or connecting people with God and others? What struggles do you face?