“Jesus had a big enough vision to think small.” Robert Coleman in Master Plan of Evangelism
What a crazy statement! Jesus came to earth with the vision of rescuing all of humanity from their mutinous rebellion against the High King of Heaven and what does he do? What is his plan? He takes twelve guys on a three year camping trip! What a plot twist, right? In order to go big, he goes small. His vision is the whole of humanity so he starts with making sure the few have the DNA to carry on the kingdom charge after he is gone. This is nothing short of brilliant. You know why it was brilliant? It worked. How did you hear the gospel? Chances are, someone told you. And chances are, someone told them and so on and so forth back up through the ages until someone heard it from Peter or John or someone. You’re living proof his plan worked. Jesus went small.
BIG ISN’T BAD, IT’S JUST INCOMPLETE
Does that means that Jesus didn’t do large outreach events or large worship services? We all know that isn’t true. Jesus fed the multitudes, healed the masses, and had a pretty active itinerate preaching ministry. But tell me this, how many of those people were gathered in the upper room in Acts 1 and 2 after Jesus returned to heaven? The people who were present were the people who knew what Jesus looked like with bed head and knew his favorite food. They were the ones who literally followed him. Isn’t it interesting that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 didn’t recognize Jesus until he sat down to eat with them and blessed the meal? They recognized him by how he prayed and his pre-meal ritual! How much time do you need to spend with a person before you know how they pray and eat! There was some serious life on life happening.
If Jesus’ vision was for the world but his focus was on twelve, what does that mean for us? If our vision is for the campus, then what, or maybe who, does our focus need to be on? When I look at my campus I sometimes get trapped into thinking, “Man, we need to tighten up our Thursday night worship encounter” or “We’ve got to have more outreaches on campus.” But what if instead of trying to gather more people to hear me preach I focused more on sending out the ones around me? Again, I’m not advocating against large gatherings and events. Our weekly worship encounter is one of the highlights of my week! But what are we investing our precious time in? We all have only so many hours. Is the majority of our time spent planning events or investing in people? Events don’t produce the results we are hoping for.
BIG MAKES CONSUMERS, SMALL MAKES PRODUCERS
If preaching and worship services were all we needed to do to make disciples we would have done it by now. The great commission would be done and we’d be out of a job. Think about it, in the history of the church our preachers today have never been more trained in communicating effectively. Our musicians have never been more top-notch. As far as production and execution go, the church has never been better. Then why aren’t we seeing the rapid multiplication of disciples like we saw in the early church? In Discipleship that Fits, Alex Absalom and Bobby Harrington talk about how in public space (100+) people gather around looking for an outside agent to engage them (think football game or concert). The majority of the students that come to our events are looking to be entertained. If you don’t do it, they will move to the next ministry, or on our campus local bar, who will. The church isn’t built by people coming together and asking “what’s in it for me?” The church is built around glorifying Christ in our lives and among the nations.
So much of what we do in this Christian life is “caught” and not “taught.” Students have to know how we practice the Christian life in a close life on life context. If we want our students to be people of the Book then we must show them how westudy scripture. How we share the gospel and how we pray. Not the obligatory transition-from-song-to-sermon prayer each week, but how do we pray when we are hurt? How do we pray when we are overwhelmed with our sin? How do we response in praise when God shows himself mighty in our midst. This is caught in small quantities by living very closely with a few. We have seen this principle lived out in our students. I try to pray with every student that I meet with and I am beginning to hear a pattern in how they pray. There is spiritual reproduction happening and I can tell it by how students pray because they use similar language and phrases as the people in their discipleship group or as the person they meet with weekly for mentoring. They may have learned about prayer by meeting in the big group, but they learned topray as it was modeled in the small group. The shift from passive to active happens when things get small.
SMALL IS REPRODUCIBLE
This past week we invested in a portable sound system to use on campus. It was expensive! When you look at big, it requires equipment, planning, promotional materials, social media blasts, calendaring, and well…money. And let’s face it, no matter how great your band is, how great your giveaways, or how relevant you are and how well your jokes land, you will never get all of campus to come. But isn’t that our vision to reach the whole campus? Then why do we spend so much time on something that can’t reach all of campus? How many of your students could pull off you large event on their own? How many of your students would you even trust to lead something like that? If we make big our focus then we won’t reproduce, we can’t reproduce. Our students don’t have the experience, the training, or the time or the budget to do that on their own.
But how much does it cost for a student to buy a Bible and a moleskin? Just kidding, it doesn’t have to be a moleskin. And how much equipment does it take for meet with three students on Friday afternoons to pray and talk about how to lead a discipleship group? Do you see the difference? Students can get to places on campus your ministry can’t and students can do it cheaper than your ministry can. The question is: Have you spent the time training them and have they caught that from you? It is easier to teach a student to pray and walk through with another student what they are walking through with you than to teach them to preach – and the turnaround is quicker. A couple of years ago we began putting an emphasis on passing to someone else what you were learning within our discipleship network (a network of students and staff meeting weekly in groups of 2-5). We began to spend time each spring training our freshmen small groups on how to lead a small group and missional communities. This past year we saw students reproduce and begin reaching out into segments of campus we could have never reached. You know what it cost us? Time. We had to go small. We had to invest in the few so they could invest in the few and once multiplication hit, we were reaching the many.
We live in a numbers world. Big attendance and big numbers impress people. Let’s face it, “we have 200 students at our worship service” sounds more impressive than “I am spending and being spent so that the six guys I meet with weekly will be able to reproduce spiritually.” But in a numbers world we have to decide whether we want to look effective or be effective. The litmus test for us as leaders is how we spend our time. Our students will change the world, not our events, so let’s spend more time investing in their individual walk than planning events for them to be at. If you invest in the few you will reach the many; if you invest in the many you will only reach a few. Go small or go home!