[Editor’s Note: This blog was first published in 2012. It has received so much positive feedback that we have decided to offer it again.]
This is a blog with a very specific audience. I know it may exclude some of you, but it may be healthy for you to eavesdrop.
This is for all the church planters and their volunteers on post-Easter Monday, struggling to make it from week-to-week, as well as the leaders and members of established churches which are anything but “mega” – well below the 200 threshold in terms of average attendance.
I don’t know how Easter Sunday went for you, but I have a hunch.
It was bigger than normal, but less than breakthrough. It was good, but not great. Your attendance was large, but not staggering; worth being happy about, but not writing home about. You are grateful to God, but now that Easter is over, there’s a bit of a letdown. You wanted so much more.
It was, in the end, a typical Easter Sunday.
And you are normal.
When you lead a church, you can't help but dream, and dream big. I think that’s one of the marks of a leader. But for most, it’s not long before the dream comes face to face with reality.
When I planted Meck, I just knew the mailer I sent out (we started churches with mailers in those days) would break every record of response, and that we would be a church in the hundreds, if not already approaching a thousand, in a matter of weeks or months.
Willow Creek? Eat our dust. Saddleback? Come to our conference.
The reality was starting in a Hilton hotel in the midst of a tropical storm with 112 dripping wet people, and by the third weekend – through the strength of my preaching – cutting that sucker in half to a mere 56.
Actually, not even 56, because our total attendance was 56. This means there were fifteen or twenty kids, so maybe thirty or so people actually sitting in the auditorium.
(As a good church planter, I think we also counted people who walked slowly past the hotel ballroom doors in the hallway.)
Yes, we’ve grown over the years.
But that’s the point.
It’s taken years.
It usually does.
I know the soup of the day is rapid growth, but please don’t benchmark yourself against that. It’s not typical. It’s not even (usually) healthy. So stop playing that dark, awful game called comparison. It’s sick and terribly toxic.
Really, stop it.
I don’t care who you are, there will always be someone bigger or faster-growing, so why torment yourself? Or worse, fall prey to the sins of envy and competition, as if you are benchmarked against other churches?
(Rumor has it the true “competition” is a deeply fallen secular culture that is held in the grip of the evil one. Just rumor, mind you.)
The truth is that on the front end, every church is a field of dreams. After a few months, or a year or two, it's morphed from a field of dreams to a field to be worked, and your field may not turn out as much fruit – much less as fast – as you had hoped.
You can rest assured that it probably has little to do with your commitment, your faith, your spirituality, your call, or God’s love for you.
I know it’s frustrating. We’ve got a lot of the world in us, and thus look to worldly marks of success and affirmation.
But what matters is whether you are being faithful, not whether you are being successful. You’re not in this for human affirmation, but a “well done” from God at the end.
Did you preach the gospel yesterday?
Then “well done.”
Did you and your team do the best you could with what you had?
Then “well done.”
Did you and your church invite your unchurched friends to attend?
Then “well done.”
Did you pray on the front-end, have faith, and trust?
Then “well done.”
Ignore the megachurches that tweet, blog and boast about their thousands in attendance.
Yep, even mine.
It’s not that we don’t matter. We do, and we’re very proud of the hard work of our volunteers and the lives we have the privilege of changing. There’s a place for us.
It’s just that you matter, too.
And you may need to remember that.
And perhaps most of all on the Monday after Easter.
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.
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