Whenever two or more people are interacting, behaviour tends to drop to the lowest common denominator of civility and intelligence. This is merely a result of human nature, and as such it is very hard to resist. Rules of etiquette are essentially social conventions for minimizing this effect. But still the effect is there, and it follows that large gatherings are inherently inferior to small groups. When the group becomes very large you have what we call the Mob, or the Herd Mentality. In large churches, conventions, carnivals and sports events — and there is less difference among those than you think — people mill around in a sea of humanity, free of any personal connections, lost in effective anonymity.
Consider the tabernacle of ancient Israel. Israel numbered more than six hundred thousand males around the time of the Exodus, yet the tabernacle designed as the central place of worship measured only 75 by 100 feet. Much too small to hold even a tenth of just the men. By the law they were forced to a central location for sacrifice; but in the small size of the tabernacle (and the temple after it) we see God’s reservations about centrality. The people were not meant to come as one giant congregation before God for their regular instruction. Why do people today believe differently?
There ought to be a strictly followed practice among churches, that when they grow large enough, they split into separate entities. A church that has grown to the size of four thousand people may have a lot of financial clout, but in terms of personal growth it is an agent of stagnation. Most people refuse to accept this until they spend a Sunday in a room of only twelve people instead of twelve hundred; then it becomes apparent how much their spirituality is dependant on the emotion of the crowd.
Then, too, where do crime, vice, and ill-feeling breed? Where are the most complex social difficulties? In the big city. In colleges and large schools. In places where large numbers of people are clustered. If people would only dissipate, many social conundrums would be greatly simplfied, if not actually solved. It was only towards the middle of the 1900s that city-dwellers came to outnumber rural citizens in America. A casual observer of history would have to admit that it was about the same time our moral fiber really began to dissolve. It would be simplistic to claim that the former phenomenon precipitated the latter, but the fact of their close timing ought not to go unnoticed. They would seem to coincide, and that is enough. The signal effort of every family unit ought to be this: if you can, get your brood away from the city.
“Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.”
—John Ruskin (1819–1900)