Leading From Under 100 to Beyond 250, Part 1
Growth must begin with understanding
My first church, in a very rural community, grew from 40 people to 200, and it felt like a rocket ride. So, we did what all growing churches did then: We built a new building. On our first Sunday in the new facilities, we had 352 people — in a town of 350!
It helped that the grand opening was also Easter Sunday. The next Sunday, we were down to 225. The following Sunday, we fell to 181, and by July, we had dropped below 100 people.
I didn’t see it at the time, but I now realize that as soon as we moved into the new building, we stopped doing the things we had done to help us grow. Somewhere along the way, the building became the focus, not ministry.
So discouraged I jumped into my old Chevy pickup one day and went for a prayer drive through the hills. I cried out to Jesus, asking, “What went wrong? What mistakes did I make?”
Maybe my time is over here in this church, I thought. Three years isn’t a bad run for rural ministry. Maybe God sent me here to build this building, and now it’s time to move on.
I continued praying for guidance, “Jesus, is that what You want? Are You asking me to leave now?”
In response, I sensed the still, small voice of the Spirit say to my heart, “Don, you can leave now and I will go with you and bless your ministry, or you can stay and I will show you things about the church you’ve never seen before. The choice is yours.”
I decided to stay. I knew it was the better choice from a Kingdom perspective, and I really wanted to learn the lessons God had for me as I helped my church grow for the second time.
Then I began to read, study and talk with other leaders who had broken growth barriers. As I implemented the tools I was learning about, we started to move forward. Over the next three years, we again grew to 200 people, but this time I knew why.
It is entirely possible to grow and not know why. Proverbs 4:27 says, “In all your getting, get understanding” (NKJV). During that season, God taught me about the importance of relying on Him and the people He had placed around me — prayer and teamwork.
You can’t obey until you pray, so pray for a God-sized vision.
Pray for a God-Sized Vision
Never underestimate the power of prayer. We don’t have to figure out how prayer works. We just need to seek God — always, without giving up (Luke 18:1).
Jesus himself got away from the crowds to pray and hear from His Father. In fact, Jesus prayed all night before He selected His staff.
If we don’t pray, nothing else we do really matters. I am not saying that if you pray, you don’t need to do anything else. I’m saying the exact opposite: When you pray, you’ll know what to do and have the courage to do it. You can’t obey until you pray, so pray for a God-sized vision.
Engage Leaders in the Vision
Regardless of a church’s size, its leadership community represents about 10 percent of the congregation. So in a church of 100 people, there are approximately 10 leaders.
This does not mean there are 10 people on your church board. It means there are likely 10 individuals in your church who have more influence than the others; they may or may not be on the board. Regardless, they have a God-given gift of leadership.
Using the 1 to 10 ratio, it follows that one of those 10 probably has more influence than the other nine. If you think about the members of your congregation, you probably already know who that individual is and a key person with whom you must partner on this leadership journey in your church.
God never intended us to lead alone. Moses didn’t lead alone. David didn’t lead alone. Even Jesus didn’t lead alone. We shouldn’t think for a moment that we can lead successfully without a leadership community.
You can’t fulfill a God-sized vision without a team. God designed it that way. You will never be able to break growth barriers simply by getting more people to follow you. You have to learn to lead through others. It is the first step toward your destination.
Begin by asking this trusted group of leaders to pray with you and dream about what God wants to do in your church. What might the next steps toward reaching more people for Christ look like? If you lived up to Jesus’ expectations in the next five years, what would change? As you pray and share together, a plan will develop.
While you remain the vision caster, and the primary voice of this new vision, you need the support of other leaders. Those leaders will help form a guiding coalition for you as you move forward in faith.
This is the first installment in a two-part series. See also Part 2.