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Hey Ben,

Yeah bro, I think you're right. I see guys struggle all the time...but often, I don't think it's God withholding His hand or blessings...sometimes they just seem "out of alignment". Their message, style, wording, lifestyle seems out of step with the community in which they live. I always think to myself: You belong else where...doing the same thing...just else where.

What would you suggest to someone who feels they might be that guy

Ben, you are so on point here. The sociological factor is huge. It can be geographical or, in our case, it is sociocultural. My partners and I planted and lead a multiethnic church. We average about 300 people, which really good for a church our age. The makeup is about 50% African American and 50& White and other cultures. Our community is really doing life together. This is huge for this area of the country. I believe if we were homogeneous or in the South, Southeast or the West, we probably would be experiencing greater growth. One thing I did not mention is that my partners and I are African American. We are grateful for what God is doing and will do through our ministry. So, thanks for making the observation that there is a sociological factor. Blessings!

This is a stretch but hang in there with me.

If people with joy are being blessed...what about people with depression?

I've learned to embrace depression (or fill in the blank with whatever outcome you didn't expect) as a gift. I truly believe those of us who experience disappointment are uniquely gifted and equipped to minister to others differently.

Success (and/or getting the outcome we desire) is overrated.

i like that. But thank God valleys finally rise again.

Completely agree. I'd say churches can grow even outside of God's blessing, but I'd also say that the leader of said church is in big trouble.

Who said "success" was in the #s? Yes, we want big #s. But the end result for us as pastors is not a big church or big crowds - its God. That's the prize! We've forgotten that God is our portion. We've forgotten the all-suffeciency of God and replaced it with the #'s. John the Baptist DIED in prison while the one he prepared the way for went on with His public ministry. Moses DIED IN THE WILDERNESS. Abraham couldn't save Sodom and Gomorrah despite his pleas with God.

If a big church is the end game, then every church not in or near a major metropolis is out before the game starts. A church in Northern Maine doesn't have the same opportunity to grow quickly to 4,000 people as a church in Houston does. If we satisfied by ANYTHING other than God, then we need to ask if the business of ministry has become an idol to us.

I know too many pastors who were unsatisfied and they HAVE the mega and giga churches.

"A group numbering about a hundred and twenty" – Acts 1:15
"About 3,000 were added to their number that day" - Acts 2:37-41
"The Lord added daily" - Acts 2:42
"The number came to be about 5,000" - Acts 4:2
"Believers were increasingly added" - Acts 5:12-14
"The number of disciples was multiplying" - Acts 5:42-6:1
"The number of disciples multiplied" - Acts 6:7
"Churches were multiplied" - Acts 8:1-4
"A great number believed" - Acts 11:20-21
"A great many people were added to the Lord" - Acts 11:24
"As many as had been appointed, believed" - Acts 13:48
"Made many disciples" - Acts 14:21-23
"Churches increased in number" - Acts 16:5
"Many [Corinthians] believed" - Acts 18:8
"All who dwelt in Asia heard the Word" - Acts 19:10
"Tens of thousands" - Acts 21:20

Every time I write a post in support of the struggling pastor - and I mean every time - I get push-back over success being about numbers.

There are seasons of "harvest" in ministry, and not every community is in the same season. It takes cultivation to see fruit from ministry. So no, growth won't happen to everyone at the same time.

But God is in the business of building his church. And not every pastor who desires his church to grow has made an idol out of numbers

Large, sweeping statements that indict hurting pastors who want to see God use them to reach more than the Christian core who have gathered together every week make me want to throw up. I'll defend them every time.

Not sure if it directly applies to the conversation at hand, but this came to mind upon reading:

I was on a conference call with a group of church planting types from all over the country. We were mostly listening to the ideas and experiences of a seasoned multi-site church leader. Mid-way through the conversation he made a comment along these lines. "Go after the big and easy wins." I was stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn't help but ask, "If everybody is going after big and easy then who in the world is going to do the little and hard?" I was not given a sufficient answer. It would seem that the state of the church in the west is represented well by the mantra that is, "Big & Easy."

I think I can make a pretty strong biblical case that Jesus went after the spiritually receptive... and walked away from the hard-hearted. I'm not saying God doesn't call us to cultivate hard spiritual soil, but I think I understand what this guy was saying.

Numbers are important, but I don't think we can understand exactly how that works here on earth.

Take for example my dad's church. We lived in a very migrant farming community. The average attendance life span of someone was MAYBE 9 months. Then they would move to another migrant farming community based on seasons and crops.

I have no doubt the Church increased, disciples increased, etc. during my dad's tenure there.

But our attendance never reached more than 75-100 people.

In and out.

Small town.


The Kingdom grew.

But our little black numbers on our wooden board never reflected it.

My father pastored a church in a rural, migratory Ohio farm community with fewer than 100 people as well. It's where I got my start in ministry. This is why I care so deeply about the small church pastor.

I hope that wasn't being snarky. I didn't intend any snarkiness. Just trying to add grey to what some think is a black and white issue. Word to the farmers.

great conversation here. I do believe that numbers are lauded as success and it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to break away from that "unit" of measurement. I am a part of a huge multi-site church yet serve as a site pastor to one of its smallest locations. I believe the organization is trying to understand that numbers are just one indicator of leadership and success. However, as mentioned before, when push comes to shove numbers always get front-billing.

Ben, you're right that sociological factors play a huge role in the growth/success of a church.

YES, God's Spirit is ultimately to be applauded for growth. YES, it was the message of the resurrection that fueled the early church's growth.


Christianity embraced women. Women made babies, lots of them. Women converted their husbands. Women didn't kill their babies like the Spartans, Athenians, and others... so their babies lived and grew up to Christians. Christians had a procreational view of sexuality while everyone else was "nothing but mammals" so they did it like they do it on the Discovery Channel. Christians stayed with the sick when everyone else bailed out. The sick recovered and became Christians. On a negative note: Constantine was a Christian and SO WERE YOU or you were done for. Ending on a positive note: Christians ignored the class structures of the empires. That was unheard of, and horribly attractive.

well i always start off trying to give validation to pastors who are running low numbers because it's a weighty and painful existence... but it always sets off a firestorm about how dare I equate success with numbers. hair-pulling commences.

Hey Ben have you read "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark? He writes from a sociological/scientific approach as to why the Christian religion expanded. I think you'd like it (if you haven't already been through it).

I think you misunderstood the heart of my post. My point was to make sure we don't lose sight of the real goal in our leadership. I came from a megachurch in a large city. Now I'm at a growing multi-cultural church in the only state in America that has had a population decrease for nearly 20 consecutive years and is over 80 white Catholic. Trust me, my point was not to go against your statement.

My point was to say that no matter what our growth patterns are like, we shouldn't put our satisfaction in the #s. We should put our satisfaction in God and let the #'s be #s.

As our church grows or if it shrinks, we shouldn't put our satisfaction in the #s. That's my point. Any pastor or leader who says "I started this church to stay as small as possible" is either lying, crazy or making a pitch for cell groups to large congregation.

I wasn't trying to contradict your post, just adding my 2cents. But, I must have written a bad check for that 2cents and it came back NSF.

Sorry for the firestorm.

I think success can look different. I think God has different outcomes at times that look different on the surface. Many times it looks like more people attending/participating in the church's meetings or programs. Other times I think God is building His Kingdom and the specific church in other ways and His purposes are being accomplished which is very successful. I think that increased #s in a church many times means that God is working in the hearts of people and his Kingdom is expanding but I think sometimes an increase in #s is actually the opposite of success in God's eyes. I think sometimes we're successful at getting a lot of people to come and like Jesus a whole lot and it's a false sense of success. We're fooling ourselves.

In a way success is #'s, but I think we may be counting the wrong numbers. Disciples VS Attendees. or... % given per member VS sheer amount of $'s given. Or.... where are the numbers being counted?

Attended a missions conference this weekend where a church of 250 had a budget of $400K and sends mission teams to an unreached people in Africa every 6 weeks. They also gave $260K above their budget to see a whole group of Muslims come to Christ and churches started, just not here. Their numbers would include whole groups of villages in another country. Just a thought.

Sorry for the defensiveness Steve. As someone who - for three years - prayed and agonized and labored to build a core group for a church plant, I have been torn between the realities that churches should intend to reach the lost AND that struggling pastors MATTER. It's a "both/and" for me.

Let me preface by saying I think anyone called to share the Gospel should be trying to reach as many people as possible, it's Biblical. Reach can be subjective though and not always quantitative but also qualitative.

To me, the numbers issue is only an issue when comparing what I have to what someone else has. Like keeping score in a game. Problem is, when we keep score, it's like we are saying we're playing against another team. That's cool if our score is God vs Satan but too often we seem to want to keep score against each other. If we're all on the same team, numbers really shouldn't matter (in a comparison since). It should be about how many we are reaching collectively.

Christian leaders should not be debating numbers as idols but rather seeking the unique calling God had for THEM, not someone else. Accepting God's unique calling and ministry for each of us rather than getting caught up on His calling for some other church.

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