...Or at least I'd like to think that
This always seems to happen to me. Even when, logically, I know, understand and have experienced trends, whenever I start something new, I always secretly believe that whatever I'm doing is going to the exception to the norm.
When I took over student ministry at our church over 3 years ago, we launched with a revamped program from the previous 5 years. I had come up with the ultimate youth ministry that was going to be off the hook. New leaders, a new program, more structure and planning, systems and decorations... this was going to be AWESOME!
The first day of student ministry was packed! Kids from different schools attended, kids I've never seen before, visitors and guests were there in large numbers. The music was pumping and I was counting noses and feeling really good about myself.
"If the first day of student ministry has THIS many people, we're going to need a bigger church building by the end of the year because we're going to outgrow our spaces!", I said to myself.
Then the second student ministry day happened the next week. Numbers were down. "That's OK," I told myself, "people probably had a lot on their plate with the second week of school happening."
The third week didn't look any more promising. By Christmas, we had stabilized our numbers... but they weren't trending the way I had anticipated on day one. As the school year progressed, we actually saw numbers slowly, but surely, drop.
In my head, I knew that this would happen. It happens anytime you change or start something. It requires a TON of energy to get it off the ground, curious people check it out. Some stick around, some don't. Those who resonate with your vision will double down on what you're doing while others prefer to watch from the sidelines for the opportune time to join in.
It happens all the time. Yet, each time I start something new, I always expect to be the exception to this.
I once ordered 100 kits for a children's ministry soccer VBS, thinking that by resurrecting a VBS program - the first one in our church's recent history - would be met with fan-fare and pack out. I was already thinking through how we would politely tell parents that there wasn't enough space for their kids. That year, we ended up having 30 kids. I was devastated.
Thinking that anything new I start will be the exception is probably a symptom of being optimistic, entrepreneurial, and prideful. Two out of three aren't bad things and probably need to be more encouraged in church settings
The same thing has happened all throughout this first year of rural multisite church planting. As I mentioned in the previous post, we had 102 people out on our first Sunday and I was already thinking about multiple services. I wasn't prepared for the shock when typical "big days" for the church would end up being small.
Easter, for example, was preceded with a mailing campaign, pumping up our congregation and setting up more chairs for a full house. It turns out, many of the regulars didn't even come on Easter Sunday and a $600 mailing campaign resulted in 6 new people (who have not since returned) and attendance numbers less than previous Sundays.
The middle of summer in year one saw we saw numbers drop to 33. What happened? I was certain that our church plant would be the exception to church growth. Turns out were pretty much the same as all the other church plants that make up studies and trends.
So what do I do with this kind of thinking? Here are a few things I'm learning in this new role of pastoring a rural multisite church plant
This process is not my ideal process. I want to go out there and achieve. I want to do a good job. I want to succeed. My motives are based in truth and for the glory of Jesus, but my sinfulness can too quickly hijack those desires and bend them for my own fame. This year has been a year of learning that about myself and trying to surround myself with people who can help point out when sinful pride and ego begin to infringe on God's vision for our church
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.