In the institutional model of church, bigger usually means better. Leaders are always looking for programs, formats, buildings or anything else that can be used to reach more people. It's a very noble goal. The problem happens though when quantity, rather than quality, becomes the measuring stick of success. In the eyes of many, more money, bigger buildings, and most importantly, more people are the earmarks of a "successful" church. But how many of those people actually translate into true disciples of Jesus?
I don't know if we have ever really heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Notice that Jesus says nothing about converts. He says nothing about getting people to repeat the "Sinner's Prayer". Rather, He says that the job of the Church is to make disciples. Now here is the interesting part; how many disciples did Jesus make Himself? (hum the Jeopardy theme with me) That's it! Only 12! Now if anyone understood the importance of disciple-making, surely Jesus did. But, by modern church standards, Jesus would have been considered a pretty big ministry failure! So, even though Jesus ministered to crowds of people at various times throughout His ministry, we only find Jesus completely replicating Himself in 12 other people.
What does this tell me? Well, it seems like Jesus cared about quality above and beyond (but not to the exclusion of) quantity. Obviously, Jesus wanted a world filled with disciples as He stated in Matthew 28:19-20. But, He realized something that the Church at-large has yet to grasp; quantity does not necessarily lead to quality, but quality will eventually lead to quantity!
If every present-day believer knew that they only had 3.5 years to make an impact on the unbelieving world, what would they do? Well, from best I can tell, they would probably go all over the world, renting stadiums and coliseums, to proclaim the Gospel message to as many people as possible. Noble as it sounds, this is not what Jesus did. Having a total of 3.5 years of "public ministry", Jesus chose to invest most of His time in a few social outcasts who would later be known as "those who have turned the world upside-down".
What did Jesus understand that we don't? Maybe that the impact of one true disciple is greater than the influence of a thousand converts.
So how can we best promote effective discipleship? I think that one decision we can make is to completely invest our lives in a few people rather than investing sparingly in many. (Multiplication Ministry and Maturity makes for some interesting reading on this subject.)
Are our efforts driven by effectiveness, or by a paradigm that makes us feel more important about "our ministry"? What do you think?