Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
Despite all of my ‘artistic sensibilities,’ i’ve never been a poetry guy.
Song lyrics, yes. My head is overflowing with an entire lifetime of lines from songs, from ABBA (don’t judge) to The Zutons, from the first song i learned (which was probably Jesus Loves Me) to the new Passion album. They’re all fighting for space up there, and the Rolodex of lyrics in my brain still spins when i need to find something, although more slowly than it used to.
Maybe i’m a product of my times, but i’ve always been a lot more Jackson Browne than William Shakespeare. I remember buying a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets one time, after seeing a TV show where a guy wooed a girl by romantically quoting one from thin air at an opportune moment. So i thought i’d buy a book and commit some to memory. Just never happened for me…neither the memorization or much wooing.
But i was reading an article online today about one of my 90’s jangle bands, and ran across this poem from e.e. cummings, i am a little church (no great cathedral) and it actually resonated with me. Like i said, not a big poetry guy, but obviously, old e.e. and i are kindred spirits in a way, with the whole capitalization thing. I’m lowercase i’s, he’s lowercase everything.
He starts the poem off this way:
i am a little church (no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
So, that phrase prompted me to Google a few facts. According to something called ‘The National Congregations Study,’ the median church in America has 75 attendees on a Sunday morning. That’s the median, meaning if you could walk by all of the churches in the US on a Sunday morning, half of them would have less than 75 people inside. Half.
And 90% of our churches have 350 people or less.
So, Stonepoint, despite being ‘far from the hurrying city’ is a large church. Nowhere near the Mega-churches (of 2,000 plus) that the news media reports on, but definitely in the ‘grande’ category at Starbucks. We have almost a thousand people coming to one of our campuses every weekend. With so many people, it’s easy to show up, find a seat in the back, listen to some songs and a sermon, and leave without really connecting to anyone, being affected by anything and having very little interaction outside of a quick handshake or two and a ‘how ‘ya doin’?’ on the way out the door.
If that’s what you’re looking for in a church, we’re probably not for you, and honestly, you’ll probably be attending somewhere else in a few years. People who don’t get plugged in, don’t generally stick around.
The way we counteract the ‘bigness’ is to ask people to continually think smaller. What we mean by that is to get invested in one of our Journey Groups, home ‘churches’ where people really get to know each other…and we mean really get to know each other. Journey Group leaders serve as the ‘pastors’ of their group of 10-12 people, shepherding them in a way that our staff can’t possibly do well in a body of so many.
The only way this thing works the way it is designed to, is for people to know each other, in close fellowship, through good and bad times. It’s not a Stonepoint design, by the way, it’s God’s design, laid out for us all throughout the New Testament.
Acts 4:32-34 says this: Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
cummings goes on to say this:
around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection
When we first started, Stonepoint was a church of thirty-somethings—young families who, in many cases, had been away from church for a while, and now had kids and were interested in raising them up in a God-honoring way. A few months in, we started getting some people in their 50s and 60s, and to our surprise, they stayed. They were inspired by the life-change that was taking place, and the fact that through our Journey Groups, they felt more cared for on a personal level than they previously had at church.
If they drew up a blueprint of ‘what i want in a church’ would Stonepoint fit it to a tee? No, but many of them are willing to set aside some personal preferences in order to be part of what God is doing here.
If you spend any time hanging around here at all, you see stories of people’s lives being miraculously changed by God’s power working through them. People who have been written off by society, and sometimes by other churches, have come to faith in Christ and are walking pictures of the ‘miracle of unceasing birth and glory and death and resurrection.’
Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?
Nobody in their right mind would call our building a ‘cathedral’ and if they did, it certainly wouldn’t be ‘a great one.’ It’s a metal building, and will always be one. And that’s okay. If you spill a little coffee, or your kids play around in the ‘sanctuary’ it doesn’t bother anyone, or if it does, it shouldn’t.
The goal was never to be a large church…that just kinda happened. But the vision since before Stonepoint even had a name was to be a faithful, committed church. That’s why we ask our members to serve, to be in community, to give of the resources that God has blessed them with, and to be honest with us when we ask how that walk is going, both in conversation and in the 4C assessment we send out every two years.
So in essence, despite our size, we need to keep striving to be a little church with a lot of people, and leave the cathedral building to someone else.