Church growth thinking back in the 1980s helpfully distinguished between ‘cells’, ‘congregations’, and ‘celebrations’ (basically, small, medium and large meetings of the church).
Each of these has (or should have) different characteristics and purposes. Here, in outline, are some thoughts on what I think a ‘congregation’ might be:-
A ‘congregation’ is a manifestation of the local church that typically has a membership of between 25 and 100. The lower figure is determined by the need for diversity of gifting and of constituent individual and family representation. The higher figure is determined by the need for the development of trust, intimacy, support, and co-operation within the congregation.
The primary purpose of the congregation is ‘edification’. The essential elements of this are: praise, prayer and proclamation, together with the sacraments.
There should be a sense of ‘belonging’ to the congregation.
The congregation would probably meet once a week, but not necessarily on a Sunday. A local church might consist of one or more congregations.
An individual congregation might be organised along lines of cultural affinity, or geographical location. However, there are strong arguments in favour of the membership of the congregation being as diverse as possible.
The congregation would be served by one or more accredited teachers. It would look, however to identify, develop and utilise teaching gifts within its members.
The weekly meetings of the congregation would incorporate scriptural preaching. Because of the limited size of the congregation, this could be relatively informal and interractive.
Careful thought should need to be given to the question of all-age meetings. At least some of the age-groups might best be serviced by separate groups, organised at whole-church level. The idea of adult Bible classes, again organised at whole-church level, should be seriously considered.
Gifts of intercession should be identified, developed, and utilised within the meetings of the congregation.
Members of the congregation should be expected to come to know one another on at least a first-name basis. A relatively high degree of trust and openness should be required in order to meet congregational needs in respect of prayer, service, and evangelism.
The congregation should relate ‘upwards’ to regular (but not necessarily frequent) meetings of several congregations for the purpose of ‘celebration’. It would also related ‘downwards’ to regular (and frequent) meetings of cell groups.
The scale and intimacy of the congregation should be such that members would ‘share one another’s’ burdens’.
The congregation should be alert to the needs of its local community. This would become particularly important if the congregation were organised on a geographical basis.
The congregation should the wider mission and activities of the local church and beyond.
Although the congregation would be primarily a grouping of believers, the meetings should also be planned and conducted with the needs of visitors and enquirers in mind.
Meetings of the congregation should encourage testimonies to God’s grace.