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Magic Numbers?

My passion is to grow a church that impacts Hampton Roads. With a population of approximately 1.6 million people, it will take a large church to do make a dent. Truth is... we could have a church of 20,000 (a la Fellowship or Lakewood) and the city will still need more of God than we will likely see in our lifetime.

When I was 13 years old and accepted Christ as my Savior (not yet Lord), I observed a church that was kind and encouraging but dull and empty. I observed Deacons who on a men's retreat actually talked about whether we should add a steeple to the building and who turned down the option of giving our building to an African American congregation. The older folks had seen this church's neighborhood change from a Caucasian one to an African American one. Nearly all of the congregation had long ago moved out of the city (or at least into white neighborhoods) and were commuting into the church building each week.

I appreciated Mr. Don for reaching out to me and I appreciated the church for lasting as long as it had (over 200 years). Heck, I even appreciate that the first Sunday School is said to have been started by one of it's former Pastors. These are nice things but they weren't impactful things.

Going into college I didn't believe in the power of a local church. I didn't want to be involved with local church leadership. It wasn't until college that I started to even learn about what a local church could do. I felt like I should be in the ministry despite my reservations so my freshman year I took ministry related classes. By the end of the first semester I wanted out. All I could see was "If I stick with Youth Ministry as a degree, I will end up HAVING to be a Pastor and I definitely don't want that!"

I ended up with a Pre-Law degree.

During that season of my life I was also involved HEAVILY at Thomas Road Baptist Church. A mega-church started and Pastored by Dr. Falwell. Regardless of what you think of him... God has used him to completely change his city. That city wouldn't be on a map without him. With a University, megachurch and about 45 other ministries all stemming from TRBC...not to mention about 40 churches within 30 miles started by TRBC people.... God has used that church to change a city.

So here is where I am. I'm wondering what the magic number is. I beat myself up constantly about growing. I will not be satisfied with a church like the one I was saved within. A church that has no impact. On the other hand... I wonder why we as Pastors get all excited about numbers. I'm guilty of it. I will likely be that way. Numbers show that there is growth. But let me share a little of the other side.

In my first ministry experience I was a part of a church plant that went from 0 to 320 in under a year. My youth department started with 3 kids around a table and went to a full house with a band, cafe' etc. But we had a ton of collateral damage. Our Pastor at the time got a big head. He started to get pretty arrogant about "his success". People started to take notice. I have a magazine in my room with a 3 page spread about our church and a picture of the staff to boot. Other Pastors wanted to talk to us about the secret. In staff meeting many times we'd just look around and say 'cool'.

And then it happened. We hit a period of flatline. The attendance stayed still for a few weeks and panic took over. The Senior Pastor truthfully was very insecure. He had bought his degree off of a website pumping out Christian degrees for $500. He always felt the pressure to succeed so when things started to not turn out how he liked he panicked. All of a sudden his pressure became our pressure. I remember one staff meeting when I was told that MY MINISTRY ALONE was responsible for 70% of the attendance. When the youth was good, we had more kids and kids brought parents I was told. I became a target. At the time I was 22 years old, fresh out of school and freshly married. I had a TON of change in my life and I lived 1500 miles away from any resemblance of "home" I had known.

One day I'll write a book but lets just say that God had his hand in it all. I ended up sitting in a McDonalds one day with my best friend (who had been brought on as an Associate Pastor in the middle of our booming growth) and said "What do you do when you don't respect the man in charge enough to call him your Pastor?"

I honestly wrestled for a month or more with this question. My integrity didn't want to leave the church because we WERE (after all) being "effective for the kingdom". I didn't want to hurt the people who looked to me. On the other hand I couldn't put my wife and myself under the leadership of a man I had lost confidence in. At one time I thought he was doing it for the Kingdom but he got off track and started doing it for HIS Kingdom.

Well, that July I resigned and moved away. My leaving helped speed up the process of his departure as people began to talk to one another. They realized that they had the same question. I to this day have NEVER shared my thoughts with the members of this church (most of those members are now gone). But in spite of me playing the role and reading a positive and kind resignation letter. In spite of me keeping my mouth shut when people were angry with me for "bailing out" on them. In spite of seeing most of my youth department whom I had built up in those 2 years walk away from our last meeting with anger and tears... God still dealt with the man I was willing to protect. You see, he had got his focus all screwed up and became a man God was unable to bless any longer. He fell into major sin and God removed him. To this day I believe there are less than 10 people aware of a majority of the problems but God knows and God did the removing.

So, what is my heart as I write this? My heart is to remind us all (ME INCLUDED) that it is GOD who provides the increase as we're faithful. It is HIS church that HE will build. The Universal church that is... the one that matters most. The kingdom of Heaven. Because it is HIS we need to make our motive one of Glory to Him and not status among each other.

We need to be willing to be humble in our pursuit of growth for the KINGDOM. We cannot afford to turn our relationships with the rest of the Pastors on the planet one of a Church-sized game of Dodgeball. We already know who the King of the Hill is.... now it's time to serve him humbly.

Being at NCC was a powerful testimony to my heart. For so many years it was Mark's passion and vision that kept him focused in spite of the numbers not being where he wished they would be. I don't know all of the statistics but I believe they were only 1-200 after 4 years. It's only been the last several years that things have picked up so much. What if Mark Batterson would have thought "Well, I must suck b/c I'm not at 500 yet."? I wonder how many God stories have been cut short because of guys who got discouraged and quit. I wonder how many figured their worth was tied to the church size.

So while all my life I'll continue to build a church that can change one city at a time, I also have to remain humble and keep reminding myself that God is at work and he gives grace to the humble but stiff-arms the proud. I will honor God by remembering how far he's brought me and I'll continue to remain faithful to Him in attempting to work with Him to grow His church.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Saturday, May 06, 2006


At 10:13 PM, Blogger Tadd Grandstaff said...

Tally great post...and an even great reminder....thanks bro!

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

Tally, it was great to meet you in person at Buzz. Like you it stirred and encouraged me. I find a lot of what you post about - battling your own expactations in ministry - resonating with me.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Tally, this is good stuff. I remember the day we hit 200 at NCC. Mark said something once that I will always remember. He said that when the church was only 19 people, he didn't feel like much of a pastor. But he realized that he needed to be the best pastor he could be to those 19 people. Because if he didn't do that, he wouldn't be able to pastor 100 people.

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Robert Pooley said...

Was awesome meeting you at the Buzz... sorry we didn't get a chance to speak more. I know exactly what you mean, having been through some similar experiences... And in my church situation, we didn't grow for five years... it has been the last two years where our growth has really started coming on. Always remember, God builds the church.
Even though we only talked a bit... I can tell you... you have the goods... You guys are going to rock that area of Virginia... in fact, its already starting... Keep it up man!

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Tony said...


Saw you around at Buzz but didn't connect. This post rocked man!

There is nothing better than a testimony about God's righteousness and faithfulness...and then the personal end of it where you gotta decide what you're going to do about it.

Hope to see you around!


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