Have you ever aimed so high that success seemed like failure?
It is easy for small churches to make this mistake.
We are told that we need to have vision. We are told that we need to aim high. One of the statements that impacted me when I was a young pastor was that I should aim high enough that I could only reach my goal if God stepped in and made it happen.
I wanted to see God work so I set my goals high. The results were disastrous.
When I was a young pastor in my thirties, I, along with about twenty other people, planted a church in Thornhill, just north of Toronto. We had great dreams for the future of the church and for a period of time things went incredibly well.
One of the strengths of most church plants is that the people involved have a sense of being in this new project together and as a result there is a very high level of ownership in the church. That was certainly true in our church.
For the first couple of years pretty much all of us who were involved enjoyed one of the best church experiences of our lives. I still look back on that period as one of the best times in my life. There was a great sense of unity. We loved being together. We were experimenting with some new approaches to worship that gave us a sense of being on the cutting edge.
We were even experiencing some growth both transfer growth from Christians who were wanting to share in our “cutting edge” ministry and conversion growth as we reached out to people in the community.
Then it happened. We got caught up in some of the church growth material of that period and we began to dream big dreams.
We visited some of the mega-churches in the United States and couldn’t see any reason why what they were doing couldn’t work for us. Why be a small church when you could be a mega-church just by making some changes.
We sold our church building. We moved into a school gym. We changed the style of our services. I even changed my style of preaching.
To some degree it worked. We grew from our original twenty people to a little over one hundred attendees on a Sunday morning. We saw people become Christians at a rate that we had never seen before.
I look back now and realize that even by church growth standards we had a very successful year. If we could have continued the rate of growth that we experienced in that first year or so, we might have become a mega-church.
Reality sets in
We will never know.
Within another year attendance began to decline. People became dissatisfied. We had lost the unity and the sense of community that had been so important in those early years.
Within another few years we had made the decision to close the church down and allow people to move on to other church settings.
There were a number of things that went wrong. Some of the most painful lessons on my life were learned during those years as we moved from one of our best church experiences to a church closing. In this blog I want to focus on just one of those lessons.
We set our goals so high that even when God was at work in our church, we couldn’t enjoy it.
We were going to be a mega-church. Sunday morning was going to be an experience with thousands of people attending.
When you are looking for thousands, it is easy to miss the few.
When you are looking to impact the world, it is easy to miss the life that you do impact.
We came to the end of a year in which people came to faith in Christ; Christians grew in their walk with God; our numbers increased significantly; people’s lives were changed and we felt like failures.
Every church needs a vision. I love the Peanuts comic strip that shows Charlie Brown shooting an arrow into a fence. He lines it up and shoots it at a completely blank surface. Then he gets the paint can out and paints a target around the arrow. That is the church without a vision.
If we aim at nothing, we can hit it every time. The problem is that even if we draw a target around it, nothing is still nothing.
We need a vision but small churches need small-church visions. They need visions that are achievable by their small church.
Learn from our mistake. You aren’t called to save the world. You are called to make a difference in individual lives.
You are called to share the gospel with people, one person at a time.
You are called to disciple believers, one person at a time.
You are called to meet the needs of hurting people, one person at a time.
Set a vision but build that vision around ministering to people one person at a time. Then when you reach that vision, throw a party. Invite the whole church to celebrate because God has enabled your small church to impact your little corner of his world.