“Crowded pews and lonely people.”

Someone once said, “The average person’s hospitality saturation point is about twenty-five.” If that’s the number you can only effectively entertain at one time, with how many can you develop a meaningful friendship and spiritual intimacy?

Years ago I shared a message entitled, “Crowded Pews and Lonely People.” It seems that some of the loneliest people I have ever met “go to church” every Sunday. Somehow that faithful attendance never results in spiritual intimacy with fellow believers, so critical for spiritual growth and maturity.

Though Jesus preached to thousands and ministered to hundreds, He didn’t march around backed by hundreds of “followers.” He had twelve men, most of whom wouldn’t pass the membership requirements of most churches I know, much less be invited to join the local ministerial association.

But, they were a band of brothers, deeply committed to Christ and to each other in the face of overwhelming odds and relentless persecution. This is the way of God’s Kingdom. Though we are part of a great company, spiritual intimacy outside of our personal relationship with our Creator, is only found in a small squad of fellow soldiers.

Intimacy and accountability is found when we join with a small company of believers. Small enough to create real and lasting friendships. Small enough for the shades to come off and the facades to disappear. These fellow soldiers are far more than acquaintances, they are allies and companions in this relatively brief journey we call life.

Just how many people can be intimate allies? Five-thousand on a Sunday morning for a couple of hours? How about three-hundred, one hundred-fifty, or even fifty? It can’t be done.

It’s very inspiring to celebrate with a large crowd. It makes a statement about the strength of the army. But, who will fight for your heart? Who will laugh at your not so funny stories? Who will cry with you when you are hurting? With whom will you celebrate your personal victories?

Is it possible to offer rich and penetrating words to someone you casually know in the lobby while you dash off to get your kids, or get to your favorite restaurant on time for lunch? And what about spiritual warfare? How comfortable are you turning to the person sitting next to you during the three-minute “fellowship time” and share your latest crisis while the offering plate passes?

It matters very little how many attend our weekend services, or how large the offering, or even how great the sermon, if people go home broken, hurting and lonely. If the Church does not find a way to create small groups that do life together, not just go to services together, a ten-minute visit with an altar-team they barely know is better than nothing, it just won’t cut it for the long haul.