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Too Many Congregations

by Tim O'Hearn

The congregation in Corinth had problems. Boy, did they have problems! One needs only to read either of Paul's letters to the Corinthians to see some of their problems. People couldn't agree on how to worship. They couldn't agree on a preacher. They accepted blatant sin among them, and later wouldn't forgive it when requested. They couldn't work out their problems without going to court. They even had to be instructed on how to give. If they had a church building they might have argued over which direction the door should face. Maybe they even argued about which songbook to use. It seems they had almost every problem individual congregations have faced since then.

Some would say that the Corinthian church had some major disadvantages. On the other hand, maybe they had an advantage that churches in many cities don't have. They were the only congregation in town.

I can hear many Americans thinking, "That is an advantage?" After all, in many towns of even moderate size, if I disagree with something my congregation is doing, all I have to do is change my membership to another congregation. The congregation leaves me out of their meals; I find one that accepts me even if I can't afford to provide a dish for the potluck. I don't like the preacher; I go to a different congregation until I find one I like. They withdraw from me because I am clearly sinning; I go to a congregation that doesn't know about it yet-and then another and another until I run out of congregations. It seems that having more than one congregation in town has distinct advantages.

Does it really? The average size for a congregation of the churches of Christ is less than 100 members. Granted many of the smaller congregations are in small towns where there is only one congregation. But in a city of half a million people, where several congregations have a Sunday morning attendance between 250 and 500 people, there are congregations of less than 100 members. Why? Maybe not always, but in some cases there are fifteen small congregations in town because of problems like Corinth had. If you disagree with someone, start a new congregation. No wonder that in most cities the population of the church relative to the whole is no larger than the Jerusalem church after only one day of existence!

The danger of many congregations in a town is that it actually weakens the church. Perhaps the Corinthian church was stronger because of their problems. They had to work them out. Instead of going somewhere else, they had to work on their "interpersonal relationships," which is newspeak for love. Today it is too easy in some places to replace love with relocation. If I don't have to work at being a Christian in the trenches, I am weaker. "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience." (Jas 1:2-3) If I face and go through problems I am better able to deal with the same, and other, problems later on.

When one has the choice there is nothing wrong with finding a congregation that is a good "fit." It is good to be in a congregation that is right for you. We just have to be careful that it is not at the expense of the "problems" that can make us grow.