I’m a “small church” girl. I grew up in a congregation where everyone pretty much knew everyone, and I kind of liked it that way. So when I got engaged to a man who had recently joined a church with a large congregation, I wondered how in the world I was going to manage. After attending service with him a few times, I was outright distressed. Kuku kill me.
So heavily did the issue weigh on my mind that I found my way to a former pastor’s office seeking counsel. He totally understood where I was (he always does, he’s a pastor in the shepherd sense of the word, not just a pastor as in someone who stands in front and preaches) and he gave me one piece of advice to help me thrive in a large church. “Find a fellowship within the fellowship,” he said.
Unfortunately for me, even though I recognized this as fantastic advice, I did not immediately implement it. Instead, I spent the first three years after I married my fiancé and joined him in said “big church”, sulking and lamenting. I went to church on service days and went back home, not to be seen or heard from again until next service day. And I wondered why I felt so empty. At one point I realized the only thing church was doing for me was giving me great sermons- so I might as well buy the tapes and listen at home. Why go to church?
To understand the horror of my situation, you need a picture of the woman my husband met and married. I had been a member of the church I attended then for about two years, but if you asked anyone they would probably say five years. On Mondays I was there for discipleship classes. Tuesdays, youth meeting twice a month and single sisters’ meeting twice a month. Wednesdays, midweek service. Thursdays, Sunday School teachers preparatory class. Fridays, working with young adults at teens’ fellowship. Sundays, church service in the morning and house fellowship in the evening. When my husband met me, he remarked, “Why don’t you just find something to do there on Saturdays?”
I loved how close we were in the church family. Even my Sunday School class was a family (I still miss those picnics)! When I married and left the church, my house fellowship came to visit me. When I had my baby the following year, they visited me at home- after the senior pastor had responded to my call while my preemie and I were still in the hospital, and come to pray with us there. And technically I wasn’t even a member anymore!
I was so uncomfortable at “big church” that at some point my husband said I could go back to my church. He said he didn’t mind at all if that would make me happy and fulfilled. I didn’t want to, however. I wanted us in the same church, seated side by side if possible. Of course he wouldn’t switch to my old church, and I didn’t expect him to; he’s Pentecostal at heart, and I’m not.
Fast-forward a few years, and I’m a very happy and fulfilled member of “big church”. In fact, I’m having the time of my life! What happened? I found a fellowship, and then fellowships, within the fellowship.
Yes, it took me years, but I finally followed my pastor’s advice. As I often say, I “entered” this church through the side doors- the front door being standing up as a first timer, attending a “welcome to church” event, and going through proper orientation from new parishioners’ class, all the way to the most advanced classes.
I first broke out of the misery by attending monthly women’s meetings. I fell in love with the women who ministered there, and experienced the joys of intimate corporate worship again after a long time. Then my husband and I decided to attend one of the events for married couples, and we found that each area of Lagos had a couples’ fellowship. We joined the one for our area, and my thirst for real fellowship was slaked at last, just hanging out with other believing couples in a home once a month. Every couples’ hangout has been a hit, back to back!
Less than a year later my husband and I joined a house fellowship. Brethren, this is real church, not that one where people sit with thousands of others on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays. Okay, that is church too but you get what I mean. That closeness, caring for one another, praying together, being able to discuss various subjects in-depth, going to the beach together, hosting barbecues, living the Christian life together week in, week out, through illness, job loss, pregnancy, birthdays…That’s church.
We completed worker’s training and joined different units, and the joy, laughter and love that come with service cannot be put into words.
I remember wanting to leave my campus fellowship as an undergraduate, because of a merger with another fellowship. One day as I thought through my plan, I realized that if I left the Christian Union, I would no longer be part of the Secondary School Visitation group (SSV) which I loved so dearly. It was a unit of the fellowship, and leaving CU would mean leaving my work and co-labourers in SSV. I couldn’t bear the thought for 5 seconds, so the plan was canceled. I stayed until I graduated.
How do Christians thrive in large churches? They find a fellowship within the fellowship, that’s how. Don’t waste time like I did. Plug in and flourish!