“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
This famous quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead is often used to inspire individuals to seek success in their areas of involvement. It's certainly true that small numbers of people can influence the majority and instigate change. This may or may not always be a good thing.
Sometimes a small group can promote interesting cultural changes, as in the case of a group of artists in mid-nineteenth century France who shocked the established artistic scene with their revolutionary style of painting. Controversial in their own time, Renoir, Monet, Manet and others who established the Impressionist style are now household names and lasting icons of the art world.
Yet all it took was a very small group of people to gain political power and control in one of Europe's most civilized and cultured nations and within two decades this small group of militants used the resources at their disposal to wreak havoc on the nations which surrounded them. The Nazi party was responsible for some of the worst atrocities ever known to mankind: the holocaust and deaths of millions of innocent civilians.
We must tread carefully then, when being asked to commit to movements, political projects, agencies for social and cultural change. Sometimes a small group can be extremely vocal, harness media support and try to convince the general populace that everyone supports their cause, when this may not actually be the case.
As Christians, we follow the original perfect small group. Christ and his group of twelve disciples really did change the world. Following Christ's death and resurrection the twelve apostles (Judas Iscariot having been replaced by Matthias) obeyed Christ's final commission to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). The Christian gospel has endured over twenty centuries and has spread throughout the world, gaining millions of converts of every nation, ethnic group and language. The work of the disciples goes on.
Studies have demonstrated that it is by fellow-shipping in small groups that Christians grow and develop a strong church community as well as developing personal skills and knowledge. Coming together in small groups allows an intimacy not found in the wider church community, particularly in a large congregation. Participants have the chance to pray for one another, learn together and support each other through difficult experiences.
In the western world church communities are often viewed as irrelevant. Yet the church still has the opportunity to be what it was always designed to be- a source of both conviction and hope for the wider community. We in the church should be challenged to live so differently to the world in which we live that the love, peace and hope which is central to the Christian life cannot fail to be attractive to those around us.
I am not sure of Margaret Mead's religious views. Yet whenever I hear or read her famous quote, I immediately think of Christ and his ragtag bunch of twelve hand-picked followers, who, in the face of the mighty Roman empire, proclaimed a message that changed the world.