I am currently on a teaching trip in East Africa and began discussing with a friend the benefits of a large class versus a smaller one. I will be here for 5 weeks, teaching on 2 Bible schools; one is in Uganda and the other in Rwanda; both have “only” 7 students. Taking public transport between the two bases costs about US$50 return and over 24 hours on the road. We were questioning whether it wouldn’t be better to have a “training hub” in the region to centralise teachers and really capatilise on visiting teachers that often only visit one base. We both come from training centers that average about 30 students per school.
However, we then began comparing our teachings before 30 and our ones before 7. When you have a class of 30 it is very hard to gage where the students are, who is following your teaching, when to remain on something and when to move on. When you have 7 you are able to have a discussion that involves everyone. You can see what the class is grasping and what needs further explaination. You also learn where they study and can continue incidental teaching (AND learning!) outside of the classroom during times of fellowship.
In addition to the practical side of knowing the class and thus presenting a better teaching, we also began thinking on our students. When you have a class of 7 you get to know all the students, quickly and intimately, both inside and outside of the class. You can encourage them and speak into their lives. And you get the unmeasurable privilege of hearing their stories. From thinking “is it worth being away from home for 5 weeks and reaching only 14 students?” you start seeing that, as my friend said: “behind every audience there is an audience”.
For example, one of the students I was teaching in Uganda – the youngest in the group at only 25 – is already ministering to whole schools of youth at a time as well as reaching pastors throughout his region. He is planning a pastor’s conference for his coming school holidays that will reach pastors into the hundreds. Another is planning an evangelism trip through multiple countries in the region after the school and yet another is a youth pastor. On the school in Rwanda, there is also many amazing students, including an influential businessman.
Of course, we already know its not about the numbers when we look at Christ who chose just 12 men to really invest deeply in and then send out and look how far and fast the Gospel spread in the years straight after His resurrection.
In today’s world it can be easy to get sucked into the numbers game and always long for ever bigger numbers in the audience, but we must remember that numbers don’t define success. Perhaps remembering that “there’s an audience behind every audience” will help you to remember this truth, just as it helped me.