I recently received an email with this question: “I’m currently leading a church of about 30 people. We’ve been going for three years or so. The network I was a part of has ‘dropped’ me because I’m not financially self-sustaining and, even though it’s not been said, I’m therefore not ‘successful’. Is there any reason I should believe I’m doing something wrong or that I should stop leading because we’re not growing numerically? Have you every struggled with this issue?”
Here’s my reply …
Yes, this is a constant issue for us. Much of that is because we live in a deeply secular context. I was told recently that Yorkshire, the county in which we live (which is the largest in the UK), has a lower percentage of evangelicals than Japan.
I think there are a number of things which we need to hold in tension.
1. It could be that you are seeing little fruit because you’re doing something wrong.
One possibility is that you’re doing something wrong or that you’re not cut out as a lead church planter. I think we always need to ask that question. It is, for example, very easy for small groups with a big emphasis on community to become introspective and lose their missional edge. Or sometimes people are so keen on building relationship with unbelievers that they never have the courage to challenge them with the claims of Christ for fear of risking the relationship.
2. It could be that you’re seeing little fruit because God is sovereign in salvation.
We can’t convert anyone. So we’re responsible for the faithfulness of our ministry, but we’re not responsible for the fruitfulness of our ministry.
3. It could be that you are seeing little fruit because you have chosen to reach an unreached or hard to reach group of people.
It’s relatively easy to plant a church by putting on a good show (with good music and good preaching). This may then attract Christians and so that your church is planted, grows and becomes self-financing. But this is not missional growth. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad strategy because it can then provide a platform and resources for genuine missional outreach. But it can be hard for such churches to reach the truly unchurched because by definition they’re set up for people who are already churched. We need to recognise that some churches will quickly become self-financing (unless they are doing something wrong). But others will need outside resources for much longer or need bi-vocational leadership. We need to celebrate and promote this second approach, otherwise large sectors of our population will not be significantly impacted with the gospel. For more on this see this interview with Jimmy Scroggins
I don’t know you well so obviously I can’t say which (if any) of these may apply to you. It may be a combination of two or three.
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