Three Ways Meck Could Have Been Much Bigger Than It Is... that I don't regret
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2016 Oct 13
Last week marked Meck’s 24th anniversary, a church I had the privilege of planting in October 1992 and where I have served as pastor ever since. We started humbly with 112 people in a tropical storm. Over the years we’ve grown to around 10,000 active attenders, with 40,000 or so in our wider orbit.
In the spirit of our anniversary, my last blog was about the three ways Meck could have been much bigger than it is that I deeply regret. You can read it here.
As I wrote in the earlier blog, bigger isn’t everything, I know. It’s not even always better. But I am from the school of thought that numbers matter because they represent people, and people matter. So how you “get” those numbers matters, too.
So here’s the second installment: Three ways Meck could have been bigger that I do not regret.
1. I could have sacrificed my family.
Without a doubt, Meck would be much larger than it is today if I had sacrificed my family on the altar of ministry.
And I’m glad.
While my kids were at home, I refused the vast majority of night meetings and events. I set aside weekly “Family Days” to spend with my wife and children. I worked hard and put in my fair share of hours, but not at the expense of my family.
Maybe a smaller church, but a much stronger family. And a family that loves the church. So many “PKs” do not. All four of my children are in fulltime vocational ministry.
If you want more details on this, I outlined a bit more about raising “PKs” in my book What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker).
2. I could have focused on transfer growth.
At Meck, we aren't attempting to lure believers from other churches by having glitzier services and better programs.
We’re trying to turn atheists into missionaries.
And that’s hard.
We would be so much bigger if we focused on transfer growth. Quite frankly, that’s easy.
Think of it this way:
Imagine that someone wants to fly from Charlotte to Atlanta. When making their flight reservation, they will make a consumer decision based on flight times, costs, customer service, etc.
Getting them to switch from, say, Delta to American is easy. Just offer them a better deal, better experience and better service. Why is it easy?
THEY WANT TO FLY.
Now think about someone who not only does not want to fly from Charlotte to Atlanta; they do not even like airplanes! Or airports! Or flying!
Think about what it would take to get them to book a flight, drive to the airport, park their car, go through security, wait at the gate, and sit down in seat 13C.
Like I said, transfer growth is so much easier than conversion growth. And Meck would be so much bigger if that was our focus.
And I am so glad it’s not.
I’m kind of a Great Commission guy.
I think Jesus was, too.
3. I could have avoided talking about controversial social issues and theology, and made each service a pep rally.
Many believe that the popularity and success of Billy Graham was due, in large part, to keeping his evangelistic voice without falling into a prophetic voice.
In like manner, I’ve often heard pastors, particularly of large churches, say that they do not want to speak out on the issues of the day for the sake of keeping their focus on the gospel and not alienating people on the front end.
But this would be a gross misunderstanding of not only Graham, but evangelism itself.
Graham took stands against racism and many other social ills of his day, often at great personal cost. He was an evangelist, to be sure, but the lesson he learned was not to avoid social issues, but to avoid politics. In fact, his involvement in politics early on in his ministry, particularly with Richard Nixon, proved to be one of his greatest regrets. He also learned to avoid the minor theological arguments that divided Christians – the nonessentials.
He stuck to the “mere Christianity” of C.S. Lewis.
But never at the expense of orthodoxy.
And never at the expense of social issues in general.
Graham took on the biggest issue of his day: segregation.
And he never lost his evangelistic voice along the way. In fact, his was the greatest voice of his generation.
Does this thin out the crowd? Yes, in a very Jesusy way. Do you remember what He said when the crowds got a little big about eating flesh and drinking blood? And the scriptural narrative notes that many then stopped flocking to His side?
You can almost hear the thoughts of Jesus in the background:
“So much the better.”
The goal wasn’t simply numbers.
The goal was disciples.
The goal is not to avoid offending people. It’s to offend them with the scandal of truth, the scandal of the gospel, the scandal of submission, at every appropriate point.
Jesus made it very clear that He did not come to bring peace but a sword, and rumor has it His own life did not end in a crowning but a crucifying.
And at the end, He had very few followers rallying around the foot of the cross.
But I am so glad He went there.
James Emery White
James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker).
About the Author
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, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit 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.