“A popular megachurch is starting a new location near us. That church is so big and has so many resources. How are we supposed to survive, much less grow? Sheesh! You can’t win for losing!”
It’s a natural human response that alarms sound when we think about someone invading our general ministry geography. We can slip into a fatalistic mindset that falsely concludes this interloper will likely kill your momentum.
That’s a backward way to see things. The truth? There is plenty of potential momentum for everyone to go around.
A friend of mine started a church in the backyard of Saddleback Church in the Orange Country area of Southern California. Rick Warren was already going with his church, but it was far smaller than the 30,000+ that it later became. After years of what he called “Losing people to Rick” as he called it, as though Pastor Rick personally recruited people to leave that little church to join Saddleback, he was frustrated. After several years of this the pastor pulled the plug on the church, he packed up and moved far away.
The last I spoke to him he said he could no longer take the disappointment that came with being in someone else’s spiritual backyard. I relate to his feeling of disappointment. There is only so much non-stop frustration a person can take until they begin to dream about a new career selling Toyotas.
Your congregation might not grow into something gigantic. That’s okay. As long as something life-giving that has momentum upon it, it is doing something great.
My friend was not able to distinguish what he was doing from Rick or other megachurches in the area – there are several. Here are some ways you can stand out:
It’s imperative that you distinguish yourself. Take a lesson from what’s likely already in the playbook of that other church. No doubt, part of the reason they have a draw is that they have established themselves as unique – as the people who address an individual need.
No matter the look of things on the surface, if you are in the backyard of something that has the Mighty Mo of momentum happening, rejoice! Something is going on around you. You must be in the right section of the community.
Either explain your distinction, or you’ll end up wearing camouflage, and you will blend into the point that no one knows you even exist.
Before you assume you are already distinct, do this exercise. Describe your distinctiveness in eight words or less. If you can do that in a clear and compelling way, then you are on your way.
Our goal and history has been built on helping people do what’s difficult and might appear a little “dangerous” because outreach might be outside your usual go-to ministries.
Here’s the one we used for years:
“We make the dangerous doable.”
That’s a pregnant line. Yours will be as well when you nail the wording.
Count on it – there are one or more distinctions you have to offer.
A couple of thoughts:
Don’t capture small goals – what amounts to something commendable, even if it is a great goal. Expand upon the root God has put in place already. There is energy around the right words.
Don’t be confined to what is going on now.
Look into what can happen, what hopefully will happen, as God begins to do something great.
It might be tempting to use a theological point to distinguish you, let’s assume for a moment that you hold to the main and plain of what has made up two millennia of church history. It’s good that you stick to the truth of scripture, but those who are looking for a place to plug into spiritually are nearly certainly not looking for that specific flavor of church.
Regardless of your current situation, it’s certain that you have distinctions. Regardless of your current setting, no matter where the future may take you, there is work to do – focus on the work that you are uniquely wired and prepared to do.
What is your calling?
Hint: It will be where you are excited. The key word – “Excited.” When God is at work, there is a level of excitement and anticipation present.
Don’t give into the lie that what God calls us to seems always to be distasteful and will probably fail. He gives us the desires of our heart. He’s the one who put them deep inside you.
What is your sweet spot?
“Flow” is a term developed by Czech, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology professor at Claremont College. His research shows that each of us has an area or two that once locked onto, gives energy when we do it. It inspires us. We are incredibly curious about that. When we are involved in it, we lose track of time. That’s flow.
The significant part of the flow is that when we are engaged the best us shows up. The version of us that is fully connected, and that has all cylinders firing in power. Most of all we feel fulfilled – as though this is what we were created to do and be.
What is your unique outward assignment?
Jesus said that he was always about the Father’s business.
God has something for you. He anoints our actions of obedient.
Is your assignment connected with prayer? Great. Don’t assume your praying will necessarily be something you do at home. Put wheels on your prayers. Walk around your neighborhood as you pray. God will give you specifics for each home or apartment even though you may not know them.
Do you have a pantry? That’s great! Put some wheels on it and take it off of your property. Keep up the stationary food pantry. Add to that some deliveries. You don’t need to start an international ministry or announce that you are taking the show on the road. Just experiment with a few people to see what happens when you show up at the doors of those who can’t get around – all to bring some food and pray for a ten-second prayer.
If the big church locates near you and they fast traction, hang in there. Momentum always operates in cycles. The other guys might be in the middle of something great, but their challenge will come. When that happens they will go through this same exercise. They will lose their edge if they too don’t keep distinct.