Rethink Success In Church Planting
I, along with a group of seven other people, planted Grassroots Church in November of 2013. As any church planter would attest we desired to see this new body grow in number as people put their faith in Jesus, reconnected with the church after walking away years ago, or moved into the area. After four and half years we have seen a lot of people come in and out and we have seen Grassroots grow from those eight people at the beginning to over 100 strong today.
I am very encouraged by this! However, I have had times of discouragement. Reading about church plants like Elevation in Charlotte, NC, The Village Church in Texas, or church plants closer to us that have had amazing growth over a short period of time have left me wondering why we haven't seen the same growth rate (or "success") as they have. What were we doing wrong? Am I not as skilled a teacher as I thought previously? Did I mess up the vision God gave us for Grassroots? Did our wires get crossed somewhere? These are all questions that I have battled with over the years.
As I go into the main point of this post, I want to make sure that I am not misunderstood. I am not offering an excuse as to why we haven't grown like some other church plants. I am not looking for what is wrong with us compared to others (although I have fallen prey to that), and I am not giving us a reason to be lazy with our efforts to share the gospel with our community. I desire to encourage others to look at the community God has placed them in, see the vision God has given them for their church plant, and to stop looking at other church plants to judge how "successful" they are in comparison.
We need to rethink success. Stop looking at church plants that grow exponentially as THE model to follow. There are so many unique things about where you live compared to other places that churches have been planted. We are absolutely able to learn from one another, and be encouraged by one another, but God placed you where you are, with the vision you have for a specific reason. Don't lose sight of that.
So let's rethink success together:
We planted in a small town of Lewisburg, West Virginia which boasts a population of 3000. That population is just in Lewisburg proper. The county we are in, Greenbrier County, has a growing population of between 30-40 thousand according to the US Census but is spread out over a 1000 square mile radius. That breaks down to around 30-40 people per square mile. Compare that with nearby counties where the following cities are found: Charleston, WV - 208 people per square mile, Huntington, WV - 336, Richmond, VA - 1300. Also consider other larger cities where church plants are flourishing: Charlotte, NC and Cincinnati, OH at 1900 people per square mile, and Washington DC at 10,000 per square mile.
With Grassroots Church growing to around 120 people, that constitutes about .34 percent of the population of Greenbrier County. For a church to have that rate of growth in the Henrico County (where Richmond is found) means in the first four years they would need to grow to over 1100 people. Consider Hamilton County (where Cincinnati is located) they would have to grow to over 2700 people. And Washington DC would need to grow to a staggering 2300 people. Is that able to be accomplished? Absolutely! In fact it has been accomplished. However, if after four years a church plant in one of these areas was running 500 people we would consider it a huge success. We should, praying that it would be from conversion and reconnecting growth, consider it an amazing work of God.
Again, I am not offering an excuse to a lazy church planter to give those around him on why their church plant has not grown. What I am offering is a new way of considering success. We should quit looking at the size of Sunday morning and look at the amount of people being engaged in discipleship. How many times are the waters of baptism stirred? How many times is the gospel faithfully shared with your community. Let that be the measure of success, not the number on Sunday morning.
I have used numbers to make my point to today. I know numbers tell a story. If you are actively sharing the gospel, baptizing, and engaging folks in discipleship than your numbers on Sunday will grow. However, if you are pulling from a smaller pool of people, do not be discouraged if you don't grow at the numerical rate of churches in larger areas.
In closing, this is just one area that I wold like to rethink success on. I am sure I have missed something, overlooked a factor here or there, and there could be a lot added to this conversation. But, this is not an all-inclusive article about church growth, It covers just one small area and idea. This is mainly meant to be an encouragement to church planters in small towns to stay faithful, keep sharing the gospel, and watch the kingdom grow for the glory of God. Learn from other church plants, large and small, but keep your eyes on Jesus, not on them.