It Can Never Be Too Small

Yesterday I spent time with at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in the upper peninsula of Michigan.  My host in Potoskey is a volunteer there and set it up for me to come and meet with the prisoners. There are two sides to the prison so we did two hours on one side in the morning, and two hours on the other in the afternoon.  This was an elective event. They had to sign up in advance to join us and most of them were drawn from the Christian groups within the prison

I told them as I started out that I gave up talking at people a long time ago and told them I wanted to talk with them in a growing conversation. They responded beautifully. We had the most amazing time getting to know each other and discussing what it means to discover how deeply loved by God they are and how they might respond to him even in the desperation of their current circumstances. I love how they welcomed me into their lives and their honesty about their struggles even with the other inmates right there with us.

But there was a difference in the conversations. One went deep, with some of the men opening their hearts in ways that surprised me and some of the others that work in the prison. We go down to some personal needs and some glorious questions about their own struggles. The other one didn’t get nearly so deep. We had a great time and talked about a lot of things but it stayed more to how I see certain issues than the intensity of their own struggles.

So what was the difference?  Both sides of the prison are equal in size, but on one side only ten people signed up to join us.  On the other side more than ninety did. As we went to the first group of ten, people kept apologizing to me that it wasn’t as large a group as they had hoped. And from their point of view I can understand why they would want more inmates to take advantage of my time there. I found myself thinking, “A group can be too large, it can never be too small, especially in a conversation.” ‘

Yesterday reinforced what I already knew.  The best conversation we can have is found in twos and threes where people have time to talk and explore their journey and any issues they might have. Adding more to the conversation always dilutes it’s depth in exchange for breadth.  I realize it isn’t always possible to get groups of 8-10 together, and I’m grateful that ninety men wanted to meet with me from the other side of the facility. That was a great conversation too, that exposed them to a view of God I hope they found enduring and compelling, but it didn’t give me as much of a chance to interact with them in the same way.

I’m not saying that a crowd of ninety is somehow less Godly than a group of ten, I’m just saying the dynamics are different. God can be in both, and was in both yesterday. If the goal is to disseminate information then large is more efficient. Lots can be done there. But if the goal is a conversation where people can sort out something in their own journey, then less is more.  Some people wonder why I choose small groups over large and it’s simply because I have been convinced that a conversation is a better learning environment than a lecture.

I can put lectures up on line and have with Transition, The Jesus Lens, and Engage.  You can get to all of the from our Free Stuff menu at Lifestream.org.  I know they touch people and do not discount that in the least.  And I am happy to be with people on the road with whatever size chooses to show up and trust God to work in that environment the best way I can. But no one ever needs to apologize to me for having a group be too small. That’s where the conversations ensue that engage my heart the most, and I hope others appreciate that too. Like the world we think bigger is better and I’m only suggesting we rethink that. Smaller is often more in Jesus’ kingdom.

If I was invited to get a golf lesson from a famous golf pro and I arrive there to find 40,000 people filling a stadium, with the instruction on the giant TV screen as I sat a hundred yards from the pro, I’d be disappointed. Wouldn’t it be better if I arrived and it was just the two of us? Can you imagine how different the instruction would be if he was working individually with my swing instead of telling me about his?  I think that’s why Jesus seemed to treasure a conversation with a woman at a well or lunch with a tax collector over 5,000 people filling the hillsides. And why the impact of those events were so markedly different.

As I said, a group can never be too small. And I’m so incredibly grateful to those who invited me to come and let me have some time with these men. I hope they are able to see more clearly their loving Father with them each day drawing them into his reality. That’s the real end of this and why God sent us each his Spirit to guide us rathe than a guru on a stage.

 

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5 Comments
  1. Will Ratliff May 3, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Love it, Wayne! What a powerful testimony of what God can do among a small group. Just this week, I was sitting in a men’s Bible study thankful that there were just 3 of us. There are more that come from time to time, but the depth that I felt and the conversations we had were much more engaging and “real” than what sometimes happens when there are even 6 or 7 of us.

    I’ve just realized as well that this is playing out in some staff trainings I am offering at a local community college. We have intentionally kept these training groups small based on the first group that commented on how valuable a small group of 4-5 was. They suggested that future training groups be no larger because of the value they received from the discussion and connection of having a group of that size.

    Thank you for your thoughts and wisdom. Smaller is better for a number of things! 🙂

  2. Susan Adams May 3, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Amein, talking with people leads to a greater relationship with individual(s)
    Loved your article
    God sent Christ to be amongst us 🙂
    relationships is what its about
    I have been so free since I realized this and walked away from Institutionalized religion
    Great article!

  3. Bev B May 3, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Another great insight! I’ve been wanting to comment on the topic of group size for some time. I believe this is one of the things that rob the “institutional” church of relationship. I have attended many churches but have now settled with a very small (30-14) congregation. Every Sunday we have a brief “pass the peace” session during a brief intermission in the service. We have about 5-8 mins to get around say hi and visit a little before getting back to the pew to finish the final verse of our singing. I’m sure this is only my personal preference but it changes the dynamics even if all we get to do is say hi. This is a pretty new phenomena for me so I can’t be sure it will last but I hope it does.

  4. Lila May 4, 2017 at 5:41 am

    I guess there’s a reason why Jesus said, “Where 2 or 3 are gathered together…”

  5. Neil Gracie May 7, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    I love that, Wayne!

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