After studying and writing on the Mark 3 Beelzebul passage about “the blasphemy the Holy Spirit” (it isn’t what you think it is; trust me), I am fascinated by Mark’s use of the “crowds” throughout his Gospel. If we take Mark as inspired and his use of the “crowds” as a strategic character in the gospel story, it seems to me, we should grasp the crowd’s significance within our understanding of both the gospel and, as well, the (local) church. Obviously more needs to be studied and written on this, but a brief forethought on the crowd is worth it as we rethink our view of church. [FYI: I am planning on doing a paper on the significant of the “crowds” in the Gospels as they relate to our understanding and application of a missional gospel. Stay tuned.]
One specific characteristic of the “crowd” worth noting is it is always around Jesus, meeting and greeting him, listening to him, and sometimes literally jumping over one another to be near to what Jesus was doing or saying. Second, another aspect to grasp, the “crowd” is sometimes believing and sometimes unbelieving, and sometimes, well, you just can’t tell one way or another. Sometimes the “crowd” is even split by belief and unbelief.
I have come to the conclusion this is the way it should be with the (local) church today, which is God’s fullness, Christ’s body local. Seriously, as the body of Jesus, the church, that is, a local church, should be surrounded by the “crowd” in a similar fashion as Jesus himself was surrounded by the “crowd.” We need to stop thinking church as a building—in fact, a building-centered church experience is prohibitive of this aspect of the gospel. We, as evangelicals, are uncomfortable with crowds "at" church; uncomfortable where the categories of believing and unbelieving are rather foggy. (This does havoc on a high view of communion, for sure.) This should suggest we need to rethink church and where “church” happens.
Whereas the inner circle of followers and disciples (we more comfortably refer to as the church members or regulars attenders) are believing (and sometimes maybe even struggling to believe) and, at differing levels, learning obedience, the outer circle that surrounds the church (and sometimes crowding inside as it were) is a little foggy on the issue of belief, but they ought to be there—sometimes they’ll look like believers, sometimes they won’t, and sometime you just will not be able to tell one way or another. We need to see a “crowd” around the (local) church as a vital character in the (local) church’s story within the community it seeks to minister and serve.