Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Smaller my Audience . . .

The smaller my audience, the greater my impact. I have adopted this as a kind of mantra over the last few years, particularly as my speaking schedule has included some rather substantial crowds. But it hit me again last weekend. Background: I just finished the last of fifteen Believe conferences for Christ in youth with a combined audience of 17K. The last one was three thousand alone. Seeing that many Jr. High students worship vigorously is a thrill to be sure. I stood on stage watching them file out of the arena in Anderson, IN, but my thoughts were backstage with the team I had labored with all year. They were where my greatest impact was. Those thousands of students have quickly (and rightly) forgotten my name. But the people I shared table fellowship with, well, that's the stuff that prefaces eternity. The weekend after Anderson, IN I flew to Jackson, MS for their state convention. Impressive, huh? Well, there are only about 30 churches in the whole state and the convention had a good attentance of 157 people! The numbers alone would suggest, to many, that Jackson was insignificant compared to Anderson. But as I stood there amongst a group of people who clinged tenaciously to one another in fellowship, singing from a hymnal (my first time in years), I realized the impact of my presence here would be felt far deeper (perhaps not as broadly, but far more deeply), than in Anderson. Something about it felt rooted and right. I suspect this experience verifies the fact that the smaller my audience, the greater my impact. The validity of my ministry must not be in the numbers of an Anderson, but the fellowship of a Jackson, and ultimately, the intimacy of a 4629 Connecticut.


Blogger Gregory Fish said...

Nice post. I'll echo your sentiments, though most my experience has been on the small stage. So it's an encouraging post to me in that regard.

We shouldn't be so suprised by that effect, though. Jesus preached to the masses and he would preach to "the one." (I remember Doug Mark's message!) There was a much greater impact in the upper room than on the Mount. Many of the multitudes left bewildered and lamenting that "This is a hard saying." His parables weeded out the disinterested people from the truly faithful followers. Whereas the disciples left and turned the whole world upside down.

We should not underestimate the power of a lasting impact from an intimate impression on "the one." They in turn will go and impact others in the same manner for the cause of Christ.

May 2, 2006 at 2:55 PM  
Anonymous adam said...

as for one who was out in that audience of 3k in Anderson, let me tell you... thank you. not so much for what you said, or even the awesome booklet. but more so for this idea you put across. in today’s culture we always hear that more is better. but i have held those 15 youth that i brought with me very close to. you taught me that. i personally think the larger we get numerically, the less we understand personally or even spiritually. that is why i respect you. you don't look for the masses, you look for the individuals who focus on changing the world.

thank you for your ministry

May 5, 2006 at 1:54 PM  
Anonymous John L. Cash said...

Bro. Mark,

Hello! Remember me? I am the preacher of the host church at the Mississippi Christian Convention! :-)

Your comments here in your blog healed a thousand wounds that you did not cause. Your comments about our congregation meant so much to me that I read them to the church last Sunday and more or less centered my sermon around them.

What wounds am I speaking of? Well, for the most part, every encounter that our small, rural, traditional congregation has had with the "emerging church" has been mostly painful. We have even been told that "there are very few people at Antioch who really love the Lord" because everything we do isn't big, new, novel, loud, et. al.

And, I think you hit the nail on the head about the folks here in Mississippi. We do love the Lord and cling to Him and each other tenaciously, and are busy in His work! Our congregation has been here almost 120 years, and the Lord has blessed us. Something to think about is that the church services you attended weren't really in Jackson, Mississippi, population with a population 185,000. That was where your plane landed. The services your preached at were 5 miles south of Hickory, Mississippi, with a population of 506! So, the fact that we have 85 or 90 people at our services each week means we are not doing quite so poorly percentage-wise! :-)

[In defense of the "emerging church" people that I've had dealings with over the past 21 years that I have pastored here, many of them have come back to apologize in later years and said that they really were quite harsh in their youthful enthusiasm, and that they do believe that the Lord is at work here.]

I guess that the reason that I am writing is because I think you have such an important job to do. And you have such a large platform that listens to what you say. In your work in promoting the emerging church (which I think is doing a lot of wonderful things), remind the young people that the Holy Spirit still works in the traditional setting sometimes. Remind them that just because people in the emerging church are smart (and I mean that sincerely), it doesn't mean that all the folks in the traditional churches are dumb! Remind the college students that since the Holy Spirit can work "by whom, by what, where, when, why, and however He chooses" it IS possible that he might work in traditional forms and in country churches! Remind them that not all churches are located in metropolitan areas—and that small churches might not be “failures”, but “mission efforts”. And remind them that it isn’t always that traditional church that is intolerant of the emerging church (as is often said), but quite the other way around.

I just started reading the Christian Standard again the first time in about six or seven years. Last week there was an article about how it IS possible (without too much trouble) to introduce a traditional worship service to your roster of seventeen Sunday services at your mega-church. It made me kind of sad to feel like we have slipped off the entire radar screen of the Restoration Movement. Bro. Mark, remind the kids that the country churches and small-town churches are still here, and that Jesus Christ still walks in the midst of them (Revelation 2:1). Thanks in advance.

I have been downloading the mp3s of lectures and sermons from your website and burning them to disk. I listen to you as I do my 65-mile (round trip) commute to my “desk job” at a public school each day. Some of my church members want me to make copies for them as well.

Bro. Mark, continue in your good work for our Saviour. I hold you in highest regard, and look forward to working with you again. Grace and peace.

In His love,


May 12, 2006 at 12:44 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


Thank you, John, for these reminders. I am the chief of intolerant, youthful zealots on this campus, and your comments are just what the doctor ordered.


May 12, 2006 at 3:11 PM  

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