In the past six months I’ve done quite a bit of traveling as I’ve attended and/or spoke at a number of Vineyard conferences, training sessions, and churches. I love gathering with my Vineyard family because I always end up learning a lot and seeing God work in awesome ways. To be honest, I’ve always enjoyed attending conferences, workshops, and visiting new churches. So this isn’t unique to my experience in the Vineyard, but when I’m around my Vineyard fam, I feel like I’m home (did you know it’s regional conference season?).
Anyway, while I love these gatherings, I have had one thing that worries me concerning small town church leaders/planters. It has to do with the most common question that most pastors are asked on a regular basis. The first question I’m asked, 99% of the time, is related to our church’s size. It goes something like this:
Me: “Hey, great to meet you. I’m so glad to be here.”
Them: “Yeah, we’re glad to have. Thanks for coming.”
Me: “No problem. It’s my pleasure.”
Them: “Hey, how big is your church?” or “How many people attend your church?”
Did you see that? Everything is going fine and we’re building rapport and all of a sudden the question about church size comes flying out of left field.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I find that there are many leaders who, because they are ineffective or misunderstand the Great Commission, make the mistake of saying that numbers don’t matter. I’m not saying that. In fact, I find it quite peculiar that the early church kept note of what God was doing by recording the number of people coming into the kingdom of God (cf. Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:1; 11:21; etc.). Jesus wants you to work hard to reach people in your community, and as you do and the Spirit awakens their hearts to king Jesus, a byproduct is that the church grows. So do not use this post as an excuse for lazy missional engagement, okay?
But there’s something about this question that concerns me. First off, why does this question seem to be the question that’s on the mind of pastors/leaders? Our identity is not found in how large our church is. Our identity is found in Jesus. Secondly, this question often fails to reflect how numbers can be very relative.
For example, in my region, Midwest North, we have the Duluth Vineyard. The first time I was at Jesus’ Vineyard church in Duluth, I thought to myself, “Wow, this church is really big.” In talking to one of their staff members I came to learn that their volunteers numbered more than the entire church I serve (man, woman and child). Then, a couple of months ago, I had the chance to visit the Columbus Vineyard. If I felt small compared to Duluth, Columbus made me feel miniscule! After all, Jesus’ Vineyard church in Columbus has more people than the three cities that our church serves! Yes, there are more people in their church than in our entire city!
My point is this: numbers are relative! If you spent all of your time concerned with trying to be Duluth or trying to be Columbus, you might get discouraged and miss out on what God is doing in the location that God has called you. Plus, when it comes to “numbers,” you have to realize that in a small town, you might want to look at it in comparison to “percentage” rather than a specific number. I’ve found that often times a small town church has a larger percentage of a small town’s community than many of the mega churches out there. It’s not apples to apples, of course, but it’s certainly encouraging when you find that a small town church has a high percentage of the community involved in their church! No matter what, be careful though. Getting caught up comparing your church to other churches can be really dangerous.
You’ll likely not see a change in the question that is so often asked (“how big is your church?”). That question seems pretty ingrained in our church’s mindset. It’s not always a sign of someone being driven by the world’s version of success either, so please don’t misunderstand me. But it can lead to some feelings of insecurity or inferiority if you don’t take into consideration that numbers are relative. Plus, as I’ve already stated, small town ministry takes time. So you might not grow as quickly either.
And that’s okay.
Just keep loving Jesus and finding your identity in him. Keep working hard to make a difference in people’s lives. Don’t give up. Keep looking to bless what the Father is already doing around you and share Jesus!
About the author
Luke Geraty is a young budding pastor/theologian who serves at Trinity Christian Fellowship. Husband of one, father of five, and deeply committed to proclaiming Jesus and the kingdom, Luke contributes regularly to ThinkTheology.org, VineyardScholars.org, and Multiply Vineyard. Follow Luke on Twitter, Facebook, or send him an email.