[8 :1] In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, [2 ] “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. [3 ] And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” [4 ] And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” [5 ] And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” [6 ] And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. [7 ] And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. [8 ] And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. [9 ] And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.
(Mark 8:1-9 ESV)
Jesus just miraculously feeds about 4,000 people. He had already fed the 5,000, and this instance proves He can provide beyond anyone’s need in abundance. Then He sends them away? You’re kidding me. Why does He do that? Modern church growth and strategies would say if you have that big a church, you want to keep them, but He sent them away. Wouldn’t a pastor want to have a big church of 4,000 people?
This also happened alot when Jesus was healing. After healing, He would give orders not to share the info, or He would move on to another place (Matthew 8:16-18). Or the time when large crowds were following Him and He left to go up the mountain to choose the 12 (Mark 3:7-19). You would think He was building a following and establishing a church, He would want everyone to know and large crowds around Him.
So does Jesus not like large crowds? Is there something more important than large crowds for Jesus? Why does He keep leaving large crowds (or telling them not to announce the news of His arrival)?
Somewhere in this is a lesson to learn about ministry today and churches today. It’s not about large numbers, it’s about committed followers. “The farmer scatters his seed, only 25% falls on good soil.” It’s about doing the will of God and spreading the good news and investing in a few in order to reach more and more. It’s not about building a large following and mega-church and having all the “bells and whistles” of modern ministry (although those things may be good and what God would have, but it doesn’t seem to be a needed goal of a local pastor and small church).
Nothing wrong with a large church and I wouldn’t want to use these verses to justify why a church is small. This concept of Jesus sending away and leaving the crowds points to what is more important than numbers: committed followers, doing God’s will, spreading the message to as many as possible, investing in a few disciples.