A year or so ago, a new church opened in our area. I’m guessing that that church is experiencing “success”. Only…only after receiving a phone call inviting our congregation to some event this church was sponsoring, I decided to look up the church online. Incidentally–not looking for this, but finding it nonetheless–I found out some information about the still-young pastor of this church. He’d left one church after significant financial misdeeds on his part were uncovered. Then, he managed to gain the pastorate of a large-sized church in another state, a “First Baptist”–but it was fairly quickly found out that he had not been honest about some past events, including fabricating significant parts of his resume, and he abruptly resigned from that pastorate.

I declined the invitation to take part in his new church’s event.

I just checked the church’s fancy website, and discovered that in a year’s time, the church had grown from 40 folks to over 500, now in two services; yep, they’re experiencing “success”. An article from the church’s website offers answers:

What has been the secret to this explosive growth? Obviously it has been a “God factor” but a culmination of the various things that are part of the “(Name of the church went here) experience” has also helped.

A warm friendly environment is part of the experience. Visitors are greeted as they walk through the doors and assistance is offered in finding a seat, getting children to their designated areas, etc…There are “bottomless pots” of hot chocolate and coffee upon arrival in the foyer. Dress is “whatever you like.” Attendees are encouraged to wear whatever they are comfortable in which may be a suit but also may be jeans.

As the service begins, it is evident that this is not the church of yesterday. The stage is set up with props that are connected to the current sermon series. It is not unusual to see a motorcycle on the stage or a BMW convertible parked inside the auditorium.

And here is Red Oak, the church I pastor, with a little more than 40 people like the BMW church started with a year ago, but not experiencing “growth” or “success” in a way that will land my mug on the cover of a magazine or score me an invite to one of these conferences as guest speaker anytime soon. I preach the Bible in an expository fashion. I try to care for people, to not only minister the Word to them and live an example in front of them, but to also encourage them, be real with them, and be their friend. When necessary, I challenge them…though probably not as often as I ought. I pray for them. I try to always act with integrity.

That said, I have my weaknesses, some of which are obvious to everybody, and some of which I guess I keep out of view, as we all do. But I’m a regular guy trying to follow Jesus with integrity, preach His Word, love His people, and build His kingdom. And in some past churches, that’s been rewarded by God with growth and vitality and influence; here at Red Oak, at least thus far, though there have been some wonderful victories and though I pastor some tremendous folks whom I love (and who love me, more astonishingly), those things aren’t happening. Maybe it’s that I haven’t stuck a BMW in the lobby yet or bought enough props…

Does that sound like I’m upset with God? I’m not…seriously. I’m not bitter or discouraged (well, I’m not discouraged most of the time); if I’m anything, I guess it’s that I’m a little cynical about BMW churches. But I had a blast teaching folks at Red Oak the Walk Thru the Old Testament Seminar yesterday, and they loved it, and gained from it, if their testimonies are any indication. And it may well be that the future at Red Oak holds some of that growth that seems to be all the rage in evangelical circles these days, allowing the BMW church to boast of its numbers even though its pastor is a confirmed liar and swindler. So be it; either way, blessed be the name of the Lord.

But I said all of that–stuff I hadn’t planned to say–to set up this short piece by a guy I’m really coming to appreciate and admire, named Jared Wilson. I’m not upset with God, bitter, or angry, precisely because of the truth of what Jared writes:

Faithfulness=Success

Go read it for yourself. And while you’re at it, read this one from Jared as well, on the legalism of the hip.

5 responses »

  1. Mark Merritt says:

    Excellent thread Byron.

    Rich Bell and I just discussed this a few days ago. He said that it takes a ‘special man of God’ to pastor the smaller churches in today’s world.

    I agreed and stated that it takes real discernment to recognize growth that is not in numbers only.

  2. Byron says:

    I’m not sure “small churches of 40” are always the best way to go, though. Yeah, 100 of 40 is ten times the amount of people as one church of 100, if that’s what you meant to say, but a church of 40 isn’t the ideal size, truthfully. I’m not sure there is an “ideal size” for a church, by any means. There are large churches that are glorifying God, and large churches that are monuments to human abilities; there are small churches that are strong, and small churches that are a waste of God’s resources and people’s time.

  3. sherry says:

    Better to be successful at discipling a few….that successful at NOT discipling many.

    I would rather see 100 small churches of 40, than 1 church of 400.

  4. sherry says:

    I don’t disagree at all with what you’re saying. (and btw, I hate math..)

    But if pastors are getting caught up in numbers…..*sigh* I wish they’d just stop it. :0)

    The number of people in a congregation is not indicative of changed lives. Yes, within all churches there are a portion who are merely going through the motions, and a portion that are truly being discipled. But it is my strong conviction that you are more likely to be discipled in a small group than in a large one.

    I once read something interesting – totally secular – that “studies have shown” that you are not likely to be able to have a truly close relationship with more than three other people at any given time, and not likely to have more than a dozen total people with whom you have a relationship that could be called “friends”. Numbers beyond that are “folks you know”. It’s just a time factor, there isn’t enough time to build relationship with more than that. And although Jesus ministered to thousands, he chose a few to disciple, and fewer with whom to be truly intimate.

    So can a large church disciple? Sure..small groups abound…but it’s WAY more likely that you will be lost in the shuffle and it’s much easier to hide who you really are in a large church.

    But in a small church – where the pastor is truly committed to discipleship and models it…ah….that’s where it’s really at, where the rubber meets the road. A church where the people are encouraged to do their own ministry as well as joining a program to accomplish it on a corporate scale….particularly programs that meet felt needs…and they can be found outside the local church, the church (small ‘c’ )doesn’t have to do it alone.

    There are people in church, lots of them, who frankly have NO desire to be truly discipled (although they may say they do!). Who don’t want to sacrifice themselves on the altar. Why fill the church with people who are believers on a religious self-help mission? That waters down the church.

    Take away the chidren’s programs, the youth groups, the coffee bars, the moms day outs….how many folks would still attend a church where the word is real? Or would they willingly sacrifice a true word for something less just so they can have a place to send their kids and great cup of joe or an auditorium for passion plays?

    Additionally, I don’t think that it’s automatic that if you are doing the right thing in your church that the numbers will grow quickly. If they do grow quickly with people who are willing to sacrifice themselves to become followers of Jesus, that’s a “revival” 🙂 and there have been so few legitimate “revivals” that they are considered to be of historic significance!

    I know I’m not as eloquent as others who comment here, I just feel strongly that self-sacrificing believers are fewer. But those believers can have a greater impact on others’ lives than a multiplied number of non-self-sacrificing believers will.

    Success is found in obedience.

    And I preach to myself.

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