How great is the sphere of influence of your church?
Most small churches consider it to be quite small but often they fail to see beyond the obvious.
Here are some things to consider when measuring the impact that your church has had.
The impact of your youth
When I was in my twenties, it used to bother me to visit the church in which I grew up. I loved the church and the people in it but I didn’t feel that they gave me the respect that I felt I was entitled to receive.
By the time that I turned thirty I had spent three years with a mission organization, helping to establish a new church in another country. I had attended Bible school and graduated with a theological degree. I had pastored a church here in Canada and was about to enter into another pastoral experience.
I thought that I was an up and coming leader in the evangelical world and yet the church in which I had spent my teenage years still saw me as a young kid.
I look back now and realize that they were closer to the truth than I was. I was still a young pastor with a huge amount to learn but I very much wanted their respect and admiration.
A word of warning to churches everywhere: Those young people in your youth group today are the leaders who will impact the church tomorrow. They will provide leadership in local churches, denominational offices, para-church organizations and academic institutions.
When they reach those positions of leadership, remember that you were part of their growth into those roles.
You don’t appreciate the influence of your church unless you measure the impact of the young people who grew up among you and left home to become leaders in other places.
The impact of previous pastors
I was fired from the first church that I pastored after I graduated from Bible school. I am not alone in having experienced problems in that first church.
Every mature leader had to go through the experience of a first church. He had to learn from his mistakes. He had to suffer through his failures. He had to preach those first bad sermons. He had to work through those early attempts at leadership.
Most churches when looking for a pastor want someone with experience because they don’t want to go through the process of helping to educate an inexperienced person into what being a leader is all about.
I heard of a church that had made the decision to be part of the education experience of student pastors who were studying in a nearby seminary. They gave student pastors the opportunity to work with them so that they could get the experience that would help them serve more effectively in another church. I have great admiration for the people who made that decision. Every young pastor needs a place in which to learn.
In many ways small churches are the ideal places for young pastors to learn. The strength of a small church is relationships. This is true for the people who attend those churches but it is also true for the pastor who shepherds the people.
What better place for a young person to make mistakes than in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. I am not saying that every small church provides such an atmosphere but most do.
The impact of transient members
When I resigned from the last church that I pastored, I counted up all the people who had come to that church during my eight years there. Approximately one hundred and fifty people started to attend during my time there.
Then I flipped the coin over and counted up all of the people who had left during my time there. Approximately one hundred and twenty-five people had left.
There were a few people who fit into both sides. They started to attend during my time as pastor and they also left during that period.
Only one family left because of a disagreement with me as their pastor. The rest left due to a host of reasons all of which had nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the church. In fact some told me that it was their connection to the church that made it most difficult to leave.
Every church goes through this kind of transition. People come and people go.
Some church growth experts state that large churches actually have a greater turnover than small churches but it is felt more in small churches. In small churches people don’t leave. Friends and family leave.
I have come to regard people who come and go as being like a river. In a river the water flows past us and for a period of time we can impact the water that is right in front of us. Then it is gone.
The are many people whom God gives to us for a season and then like the water they move on. We have that period, however short or long, in which to impact them. We get to invest into their lives for that period and then they move on to a different part of the Kingdom. They take their gifts some place else.
For that period of time that they are with us, we get to prepare them to be more effective servants in other places.
I can almost hear someone saying at this point: “But we suffer their loss. We lose them and someone else benefits from our work.”
This is true but this is the difference between a narrow us-first mindset and a Kingdom of God mindset. Is our goal to grow our church or is it to grow the Kingdom of God?
I look back over all of the churches of which I have been a part and each one of them contributed to my growth in some way. Each one played a part in bringing me to the point in my discipleship journey at which I am today.
Your impact is greater than you think
Don’t sell your church short. You probably have had a greater impact than you think.
Look at the larger picture and thank God for each person whose life you have influenced
- for the youth who have gone on to places of leadership
- for the pastors who took their first steps into maturity in your church
- for the transient members whom you had for a short period and who are now serving in other parts of the Kingdom