Thursday, February 23, 2006

Small Is Huge - Christianity Today Magazine

Small Is Huge - Christianity Today Magazine:
"...I admire big ministries. At Christianity Today, we often report on large ministries like World Vision, the Salvation Army, and the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. All of them have amazing capacity to take on large projects and to deliver the goods. After Hurricane Katrina, the Salvation Army and the North American Mission Board fielded enormous teams in a coordinated fashion to deliver huge amounts of help. Because of their experience, they brought organizational expertise to other groups that were trying to minister to those displaced by the hurricane. By the end of September, the North American Mission Board had served 5.1 million hot meals to Katrina victims. That's amazing capacity.

Ministries with great capacity also foster small, high-contact ministries at the street level. Those and other small independent ministries like Emmaus tackle everyday disasters that aren't easily reached by the giants of compassion. People battered by hurricanes of schizophrenia and stds, alcoholism and family dysfunction, poverty and prejudice call for no less expertise. Indeed, they demand the kind of vision, commitment, and sheer grit that come from being part of a small, mutually supportive ministry—one small enough to be untouched by corporate-think or by the reduced expectations we sometimes call "realism." Such ministries attract and hold people who are willing to believe that the impossible can be accomplished.

Small churches, also, can serve, nurture, and rescue people in ways that only small-church intimacy can provide. Big churches have large capacity for innovation and setting trends, and they can create specialized ministries for special audiences. But there is an advantage to smallness...."
I suspect that most of the mission of the Church takes place at a small scale. The job of national church organizations is to "think globally", but the local congregations are able to react more quickly to the problems in their community and, more importantly, are far more aware of the needs than people at the denominational level. This is not to minimize the need for, say, the PC(USA) offices in Louisville -- they provide valuable support and can act as a clearinghouse for information and volunteers -- but they rely heavily on people at the grass roots to do the neccessary work.

In 1969 I travelled with an Exporer Scout contingent to Nelson County, Virginia to help clean up after Hurricane Camille. We camped and worked with local people and shovelled mud and did other more unpleasant tasks. A national organization whom I respected (and still respect) came in a day or so after we arrived, and pretty much irritated the local people by assuming that they (the national organization) knew what was needed. A local Mennonite group had been working since the hurricane and they did it without setting up a command post. They just showed up in work clothes and started working.

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