The Numberless Throng
"I’m afraid we won’t have a very big audience today,” the conference president mutters as we wait the beginning of the worship service. “We usually have more than this at this hour. I’m guessing that the reason is…”—and here he chooses at least one from the following list:
“The weather is so bad today”;
“There’s another big event that many members are attending”;
“The youth are having a concert/film/pageant/training event”;
“We didn’t really have time to publicize this service.”
I smile knowingly, for I have sometimes stood where he now stands, awkwardly explaining why the swelling crowds once anticipated have failed to materialize.
He doesn’t know, nor will I have the time to tell him, how little all of this matters—whether the audience is numbered in the tens or in the thousands, whether every seat or bench is filled, whether the hymns sound rich and full or murmured by the faithful few.
This is worship, not politics or performance—not an event to be measured by the usual human instruments of numbers, volume, amplitude. In the hour of worship, believers enter into a conversation with their Lord that often is more harmed than helped by thousands gathered ’round. In the hour of worship, we dare not exchange the personalized and Spirit-honed Word of the Lord for the sense of security we get from participating in large or popular events.
The Christ we come to worship promised that He would attend if only two or three were gathered in His name. And though He preached to thousands and had compassion on large multitudes, He always showed a preference for the small and intimate encounters. He isn’t shamed by small attendances, nor is His power restricted by the count. His love is just as warm, His grace just as amazing when 10 or 20 learn of it as when the stadium sings His praise.
So if you worship with only a few—as millions of Adventists around the world do—take heart—and stop apologizing. You already have all the audience you need.
“Before they call, I will answer,” the Lord says. “While they are still speaking, I will hear” (Isa. 65:24, NKJV).
— Bill Knott