NEW YORK—The lights were on. The chairs laid out. The sermon practiced and prepared. All of this, and only one person came. This happened many years ago, but I still remember. It’s branded in my brain as not exactly a church-planting victory.
I remember thinking, “What can we do?”
We had two choices—either to quit or to make the best of it. We decided for the latter. The two of us sat in the cold, empty New York storefront and searched the Word of God. We found a special phrase in Isaiah. “One shall become a thousand” (Isaiah 60:22).
Somehow, those words stirred a spirit of faith in us. Thrilled, we claimed that verse. And despite the earlier disappointment, our excitement grew.
What I didn’t know at the time was the one person who had come to service that day—a man with a long history of alcoholism—would succeed in recovery and be a powerful leader in our group. He would mentor many young men and help our storefront church be the springboard for many churches.
Our gatherings grew as we helped start other churches. In all, we surpassed far more than a thousand. What I didn’t know at the time was that one man would bless so many. But he did.
We often misinterpret a verse in the Bible. We say where “two or more” are gathered together, there Christ will be. It’s Matthew 18:20. However, the Bible says “where two or three” are gathered together. Three is still small; it’s certainly smaller than “more.” Perhaps Jesus sets the limit at three because, once there are more than three people, we feel the need to have structure like committees and task teams.
But ministry-based church planting is about blessing many and investing in few. For example, at the beginning of one chapter, Jesus is feeding over five thousand people. At the end of the same chapter, even the twelve might leave (John 6). And many times in the New Testament, Jesus is spending time with only three people—Peter, James and John.
After a big event, we may get discouraged if only a few people accept Christ. But we can’t quit! In fact, we should be encouraged to continue ministry. The rhythm of the Bible follows the same pattern we often mislabel as a struggle. Small is big!
As we learn in the Bible, ministry is often to bless the many whether through feeding thousands in meal-packing or in providing back packs and other necessities. Ministry is also to invest in the few. Things don’t stop with the few; In fact, it has been our experience that starting with a few is a way to reach many. Investing in the few sometimes develops leaders who bless far more people than we could ever imagine. Therefore, finding ways to meet in small groups is beneficial to ministry and follows the same idea Jesus had with His disciples.
Whether it is only five pieces of bread or a few people, in the Bible small is actually big. I am thrilled I didn’t quit when only one person showed up.
Taylor Field is the Send Relief missionary in New York City for the North American Mission Board who also planted and continues to grow Graffiti Church in New York’s Lower East Side. Graffiti Church is a church that has helped plant many other churches.