Count and report. Count and report.
My initial days as a church planter felt urgent. Not only was I full of vision, I was eager to prove that the vision my co-pastor husband and I shared was a vision that could reach a lot of people. So I counted people, a lot. If you were pregnant I counted you twice. If you left the service for some reason and then returned, I pressed that clicker again when you walked back in the door. (I’m kidding! Kind of.) That was the goal, right? Reach a lot of people, and fast! At least, that’s what it felt like on any church planting website I visited or any training I attended.
I could place my numbers fixation at the feet of the bloggers and the trainers I followed. But I confess I followed the “count the seats gurus” because I was full of a strange blend of the Holy Spirit and my own ego. And very often, my measure of our church planting success was driven by my ego and not the Spirit.
After three years we had to conclude that either our strategies were awful, or the Holy Spirit didn’t get the memo.
Truthfully, by the numbers, we were not doing very well. We pressed to break through ever-important attendance thresholds. Trainers told us that 75, 125, 150 were just obstacles to be conquered by my clever ministry mind—oh wait, I mean the Holy Spirit’s power. About three years into our work we had to conclude that either our strategies were awful, or the Holy Spirit didn’t get the memo that a church of sixty wasn’t really a strong sign of God’s power. Now, eight years into the work of church planting and pastoring, it’s clear that I am the one who didn’t get the memo in those early days.
“We know each other, right?”
I noticed a new yet familiar face in the congregation when I stood up to preach that morning. When the serviced ended, I went directly to greet the twelve-year-old visitor. “Yeah, I’m LeRoy,“ he said, with a big grin. “LeRoy! You’re all grown up!” I said offering him a smile and a welcome home hug.
The last time I saw LeRoy, he was six years old and Cityview Church was only two years old. LeRoy and his cousins used to live in the neighborhood, and they were present at nearly all of our neighborhood parties. The Pumpkin Olympics, the Great Rabbit Rescue and Egg Hunt, weeknight cookouts. If we were on the street, LeRoy and his cousins were with us. They were “ours” and we were definitely “theirs.” It wasn’t always easy, but it was always love.
LeRoy’s family moved out of the neighborhood as the wave of gentrification started to rise. Eventually we lost touch. But on this day, the family was in the neighborhood visiting friends and LeRoy decided, on his own, to return to Cityview Church for a visit. “I used to go here,” he explained to an adult who offered him what he got the last time he was with us—interest and a listening ear.
Seeing LeRoy reminded me of other Cityview Church homecomings, moments of return that revealed what seeds were planted by our seemingly meager offering of kingdom community. The medical student we sent off with a little bit of book money who returned six years later to tell us she had graduated. The addicted mom who chose Cityview Church as the rendezvous point to reunite with her middle-school children for the gift of a Mother’s Day visit. The recovering addict, newly released from prison, who knew where he could still find his spiritual family.
None of these homecomings gets officially “counted.” That’s okay because I’m done counting. It took a little while, but I finally got the memo.