The first is the hardest: You must believe your church can grow.
Like seriously-deep-down-inside believe it can happen.
Trust me, if you don’t believe that it can, it won’t. I know that from first-hand experience.
The “Yeah, But” Syndrome
A strange thing happens when our churches stay at the same size for an extended period of time: we start succumbing to the “yeah, but” syndrome.
Someone insinuates that the reason our church isn’t growing is because of something we’re not doing, and what happens? We become defensive. I know I do. I immediately fire back, “Yeah, but you don’t understand. We’d like to grow, but _________.”
We’ve all said the same things…
… we are landlocked
… we don’t have the parking, children’s space or seating capacity
… we don’t have the money
… we don’t have the right staff
… we aren’t in a rapidly growing suburb
… our church is in a bad location with no visibility
… we are in a liberal denomination that doesn’t believe in evangelism
… our church leadership isn’t structured to allow me to lead
It’s “yeah, but” ad nauseum.
I’ve done this. You’ve done this. We’ve all succumbed to the “yeah, but” syndrome.”
Jesus > “Yeah, But”
The problem with this excuse-oriented thinking is that we claim to believe in an ocean parting, miracle working, raising from the dead kinda God. If we were Buddhists, then yeah, we could live comfortably as we pastor the First Christian Church of Complacency. Buddhists don’t expect miracles.
But we’re charged with reaching every last non-believer on the planet. The issue isn’t that we’re stuck at an attendance barrier, it’s that there’s people near us who haven’t been reached. Enlarging the “wineskin” allows us to welcome new people into our redemptive communities.
When we start making “yeah, but” kinds of excuses, God must want to tap us on the shoulder and ask, “Is anything too hard for me?” (Genesis 18:14).
Do you really think parking is an issue that can’t be overcome? Limited classroom space is going to stop him? An empty bank account is going to cause the God who owns it all to back off from doing what needs to be done to reach every last person in your area?
The bad news is the problem is in our own heads.
Thankfully the good news is that God is in the mind changing business, even for Senior Pastors.
My Experience Breaking Through “Yeah, But”
The church I planted in Ohio plateaued at 150 soon after opening day. We met in crappy facilities, had no money, few leaders to speak of, were located in a non-growing area, and to top it off I was exhausted. I became depressed, second-guessed everything I did, and eventually adopted the “yeah, but” mindset. Every time someone asked why we weren’t growing I became defensive and rattled off a litany of reasons why they should lower their expectations. Consequently we stayed at 150 for four years.
Sometime in the middle of year four I stumbled upon a book written by Robert Schuller. It was penned in the days before Robert got weird. Before writing the book Schuller started a new church in a drive-in movie theater. He preached on the snack shack roof while people listened in their parked cars. Somehow people came and the church grew. That, my friends, takes some guts and original thinking.
The title of the book was Your Church Has A Fantastic Future. I read, and re-read that book at least five times that fourth year. One passage in particular spoke to me:
Many have heard the statement, “I’ve got to see it before I believe it.” That’s a negative-thinking statement if there ever was one, and it’s as wrong as can be! Learn to say it right, turn it backwards and say, “I’ve got to believe it before I see it.”
Despite the Dr. Seuss self-help sounding rhyme to it, those few sentences helped me understand exactly why our church wasn’t growing: I didn’t believe we could. I was debilitated by “yeah, but” syndrome and didn’t know it.
I was like that guy in the Old Testament who was traveling with Elisha when thousands of troops descended upon them. Encircled, outnumbered, and minutes away from certain peril, the guy wallowed in despair. That was until Elisha prayed a prayer I’m praying for you.
2 Samuel 6:17 says, “And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.”
That’s what Schuller’s book did for me: it opened my eyes to start seeing what could be, not what was. That caused me to want to do in-depth study on the subject of faith, which in turn led me to meditate on Hebrews 11 for months. Want to know what happened as a result? Two things.
First, I finally admitted to myself that I had no idea what I was doing. That was important. Second, I told God I was going to go find out. I became determined to find and interview every pastor I could locate that led a church through the 200 barrier. I found out what worked, and then took those lessons back to my ministry context.
Soon we grew from 150 to 225.
That may not seem like a huge jump to many, but it was to us.
More important, I believed that was just the beginning.
And it all started because I simply started believing that our church could grow.
A Never-Ending Struggle
Every time I’ve faced an attendance plateau since then I’ve dusted that book off and re-read it. I encourage Senior Pastors I coach to do the same.
CCV is trying to break through the 2,000 barrier right now, so, sure enough, I’m re-reading that book. I’m studying faith. I’m meditating on Hebrews 11, and I’m looking to interview Senior Pastors who have fought through the “yeah, but” syndrome and broken the 2,000 barrier.
Listen, your church can break through whatever attendance barrier you’re facing. But you must believe it can happen.
In the next post I’m going to explore the other belief necessary for breaking through any attendance barrier. But before we get there I want to ask again,
Do you really think your church can grow?