On The Ideal Size Of An Assembly

Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with the institutions of assembly, whether they are student councils in school, political organizations, churches, or even supranational organizations like the United Nations general assembly or security council.  Many of us may even have taken part in various assemblies over the course of our lives [1].  In light of this experience, I would like to ask a simple question:  what is the ideal size of an assembly?  The question I have was sparked at least immediately by a friend of mine posting about a Feast of Tabernacles that was attended in the island nation of Tonga last fall by eight people.  Now, I attended a fairly small feast site of about a hundred people or so, and in the past I have been a part of even smaller assemblies, but it appeared as if the person posting the message (and many of the readers) had the assumption that eight people was too small of a number for an ideal assembly, a sentiment that I concur with.

We are all aware of cases where an assembly may be too large for our purposes.  As a child, for example, I regularly attended a Feast of Tabernacles location in St. Petersburg, Florida, where there were about fourteen thousand people in attendance, a population as large as the small town where I was raised.  That many people in one building before the advent of cell phones made it difficult to meet people or to coordinate plans in the face of that mass of people.  One could see the danger, for example, in large assemblies like the hajj for Muslims or the crush of people who go to “holy week” in Rome, or any other number of similarly massive festivals.  In such an assembly one may only know one’s own immediate party and the group as a whole is simply a mass of strangers.  The fact that there are so many strangers as well may make our own relationship with these people extremely superficial and liable to panic in the case that there is something that goes wrong or where the flow of people is hindered and people may even be trampled because they cannot move forward in the face of the crowds behind them.  Even in cases where the mass of crowds is not life-threatening, an assembly that is too large does not allow us to be seen or heard by very many people and makes communication among the body as a whole somewhat difficult.

On the other hand, it is also easy to see that an assembly may be too small.  If one has a regular meeting place that one pays to rent, for example, a group may only be viable if a certain number of people are present.  A political district with too few people is liable to become a rotten borough as was the case in Great Britain before the Reform Act of 1832, which allowed for landowners to essentially control who was in certain parliamentary seats because they were the only eligible voters in an entire district, while some large cities, due to the absence of redistricting, had no representation in Parliament at all except that facetious “virtual representation” of which the English are so proud.  Likewise, a church assembly that meets as a home church may have only a few members, and will likely be dominated by one family or one person in a family, without there being enough people for iron to sharpen iron.  Some assemblies may simply have too few people to get the job done that they need to do, like the embassy staff of a poor country overwhelmed by visa requests and unable to process them in a timely fashion.  These are not merely hypothetical examples, but ones that many of us have likely experienced from time to time.

What is it that we expect an assembly to do?  A great deal of what we may consider an ideal size depends a lot on what we expect out of it.  Do we want an assembly large enough to contain a diverse group of people or opinions?  Do we want an assembly small enough to know everyone in it well and be able to present our own thoughts and opinions at considerable length without causing others irritation because they want to share their own views?  Do we want an assembly large enough to make new friends or small enough so that we do not feel overwhelmed by the mass of it, or do we want an assembly large enough that it feels significant in terms of getting group rates for hotels and other concerns.  As we might well imagine, an ideal assembly might vary strongly on the purpose.  We might be willing to accept a religious festival that had a large number of people because we would be more interested in obeying a command to assemble and listening to what is said to us rather than sharing our own thought and opinions to such a crowd of people unknown to us.  On the contrary, we would not be willing to accept a political assembly of five people to represent a population of many millions without keeping such people on a very short leash indeed.  We might prefer an assembly of dozens or hundreds of people when it came to our own weekly religious services but might have an assembly of only a handful of people to at most a dozen or two when it came to the more intimate task of personal conversation and eating together, of whom most of our attention might be directed to only one or two of them.  And so it goes, as the purposes of an assembly influence how large or small we want it to be.  And that is precisely as we should expect, given that assembling is such a diverse activity in which there are often many contrary purposes which vary widely in terms of how important each of them is at a given time.

[1] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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