"We have to face reality," I announced to the congregation one bright October Sunday morning. "We are not bringing people to Christ."
Before me, seated on stacking chairs in a grade-school gym, were our fifty adults and a few children, appearing as civilized as landed gentry (toddlers excluded).
"The Great Commission is our mission," I continued. "We have to do whatever it takes to become a church that leads people to Christ."
Our church was nine years old, and I had now been the pastor for two years. We had grown from 35 to 80 on a bang-up Sunday, but I wasn't satisfied: it was transfer growth. We weren't reaching unchurched people.
I took responsibility and resolved to do something about it. I blocked out time in my schedule, prayed intensely about the problem, and birthed an idea-a seven-step strategy for breaking out of our shell.
Confidently and with great expectations, I handed the congregation my baby.
The Coming-Out Party
The first step was prayer, and on this Sunday morning, I was using my sermon to introduce it.
"James 4:2 says, 'You do not have because you do not ask God,' " I said. "We must base our outreach on prayer." For the next thirty minutes, I introduced three key prayer requests based on three Scriptures.
As we drove home after the service, my gentle wife didn't say anything about my sermon on this watershed day in our church's epic history. Finally, hoping that things had gone better than I had sensed, I asked, "How did it go?"
"Well, it went okay. But maybe you should have focused on just one Scripture and one prayer," she said. "I think people got a little confused."
"Three Scriptures, and they're confused?" I said incredulously. I had felt insecure, now I was burned. I had offered a clearly biblical message, presented it with passion, and the only response was a tepid critique of my sermon structure. I looked at my wife as if she were Attila the Hun holding my firstborn.
In the next few weeks, I discovered my wife's reaction was one of the most positive. My intensely felt vision wasn't immediately celebrated by the rest of the congregation. The reawakening of passionate prayer, the resurgence of evangelism wasn't ushered in by my introduction of the seven-part strategy. I was crushed.
When we develop a creative idea, it becomes our baby, the most wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, and promising child ever to grace the earth. However, the time soon arrives for proud parents to bring their brainchild into public, and that can be traumatic.
When we present our idea for approval and support, others may frown at our baby. They have the gall to scorn our baby's looks! If we place our baby in their arms, they hand her back without gushing over her. Some actually seem bent on harming our beloved offspring.
Often that's our own fault. Although the people we lead are thoroughly "civilized," we sometimes present creative ideas in ways that provoke what seem like savage reactions. Upon reflection, I realize more members of my congregation would have welcomed my ideas if I had done five things differently.
Keep It Simple
I love to analyze. I can multiply points like children spawn excuses for not cleaning their bedroom. Give me several weeks to develop a plan, and it can rival a computer chip for microcomplexity. Here was the thumbnail sketch of our evangelism strategy's first step-the prayer plan: