Coming To Terms With Average

This week I observed my 23rd anniversary at the same church. We just finished the most intense month of our summer- Vacation Bible School followed by World Changers (a joint project of LifeWay Christian Resources and our church…bringing 230 students and adults to Winston for 19 work projects to be the hands and feet of Jesus). Heavy lay involvement is necessary for those kind of experiences. The people of our church and community make these kind of events succeed.
But, (and you knew this was coming…) after 23 years and numerous projects and ministries we seem stalled in terms of actual numerical growth. Our impact in the community is significant, but spiritually we seem to be stagnant. We have seen several people come to faith in Jesus Christ this year – mostly adults. We have seen some important spiritual growth among our leadership with some new folks stepping into leadership responsibilities.
Demographics have changed in these last 23 years. What used to be a bedroom community for mill workers and other wood product processes has morphed into a community of retired folks and struggling young families who are dependent on all sorts of state and federal aid. Minimum wage jobs are plentiful but many go unfilled because raising a family on 29 hours a week even at over $9.00 an hour is difficult. Many of the young families who remain in our community are or have struggled with addiction issues. Some of these younger families are struggling with the results of broken relationships and many young adults have no real model for building strong and stable families.
Of course this suggests multiple opportunities for ministry. Our church has had some success with AWANA’s, VBS, and World Changers in impacting the larger community.
There are really two issues at work here. First, how we define success is so often tied simply to numbers that I often fall prey to the comparison virus…wondering how many are attending the church up the street, across the street, a few blocks over and so on. Comparison is a virus because it only produces unhealthy results. Church is not a competition to see how many more people we can have in our building than other churches. Comparison also leads to leaders assuming that what works in one congregation is applicable to their own group.
The second issue is learning to measure Kingdom impact. As Southern Baptists we are rightly concerned about the declining number of baptisms but we also need to be evaluating impact as well. An increase in baptisms without a corresponding increase in responsible Christian living would be meaningless. Seeing multitudes come to faith in Christ might draw the attention so many people crave but with no strategy to disciple and congregationalize there will be minimal impact for the Kingdom of God.
So, are we an average church? According to the statistics, Yes. According to impact, however, I would submit that we are truly above average and we are making an impact in our community as the Gospel is not only presented but lived in faithful and authentic ways.


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