Tag Archives: church growth

empty chairs at church

Years ago when I was a youth pastor, there was a particular summer night where the usual youth group crowd was really low.  I wasn’t surprised as it’s just something that tends to come with church attendance during those two brief months in the Seattle area when the sun comes out and people make the most of the warm, long evenings.

I remember the night well as I stood on the stage and my first words of the service were, “hey, where is everyone tonight?“.  Just then a 12 year old girl said, “What about us? Were here!”  Immediatley I realized how rediculous and hurtful my words were to those students who had taken the time and effort to join us for our gathering. 

A 12 year old girl helped change me begin to re-think church growth, my insecurities, and empty chairs.

It was Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher from the late 1800’s who once said, “when we focus our attention on the empty chairs, we do a disservice to those who fill the chairs”.  This is a brilliant statement which many people and pastors in today’s church need to think about and wrestle with!

Spurgeon’s words should force pastors to confront their motives, insecurities, and approach to growing healthy communities of faith.  I’ll be honest…empty chairs sometimes make me feel like I’m failing in leading the church.  I’ve learned to catch myself when those thoughts or feelings arise, as they force me to alter how I lead and what I believe about growth.  Even worse…it often means that I fail in being the shepherd God’s called me to be to those God has brought to us.

My particular pastoral training tells me to do whatever I have to do to fill the seats, yet the message of Scripture tells me to make disciples. Thus, the tension of filling chairs on Sundays and growing a church through the long and sometimes messy journey of disciple-making.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against mega-churches or growth plans that many pastors adhear to…it’s more or less me sharing the truth of Spurgeon’s words, and how they’ve impacted me over time.

Living in a culture where high-achievement, dynamic leadership, and numerical results are often the gauge for success, it can be hard to lead the church in a way that I believe I’m supposed to.  I find myself always asking God for the strength to lead with conviction, be odedient to His mission, follow Jesus through a life of faithful serving, and pastor my church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not sure if much of this makes sense, but I think people would be surprised by how many pastors are both discouraged and distracted by the “empty-chairs”. 

Pray for your pastors today.

Love and Peace.

Being the church, or chasing cool?

In the last week there have been two blogs that seemed to have made their way into my stream of thought.  One is by my friend over at Spiritfarmer who provides a thoughtful, funny and provocative rant about churches who have subtle ways of saying all other churches suck, but theirs. 

It’s a post (Read Here) worth your time.

The other is a video blog from pastor Ed Young who leads the Fellowship Church in Dallas.  Fellowship is a huge church known for it’s creative talks which deal with topical issues such as sex, parenting, money, and marriage.  Last year I wrote a blog about Pastor Young and his message to the Fellowhip staff about not ever planting churches within the area of Fellowship church.  He claimed then that those who do that are “church pirates”.  It remains the most read post of my short blogging career for some reason…

Recently, Young decided to video himself while driving to illustrate a point about pastors “chasing cool” by swearing and talking crudely.  While I understand what he’s getting at and believe he makes some good points.  I find it very funny that the master of creating a church service which delivers “cool” to the people each Sunday would warn against such a thing.  Here’s the video…

Let’s be honest here.  The fact that pastors are being included into the discussion of “chasing cool” in terms of how they lead and shepherd their churches is not a good thing.  Both these blogs have forced me to look at my leadership, pray for pure motives, and make some changes about the way I think and approach my church.  It’s an easy trap to fall into these days…especially in my Seattle / Eastside culture defined by it’s high achievments. 

I find myself thinking today not about what is cool, but rather what is relevant.  I believe media and creative teaching series’ have there place in today’s church, but the reality is that there is nothing more relevant in all the universe than Jesus and the Gospel. 

It’s with that thought that I also challenge the person who’s seeking a church to attend…a faith community to journey with…or maybe even an intentional community to live with.  Stop gauging your attendance or ability to commit on how cool the church or pastor is.  These things will certainly catch your eye and draw you in, but if many of us are honest about why we’re desiring church…it’s because we want to know how to contextualize God’s word into our everyday living. 

We want more than happiness…we want to be whole.  We don’t really want entertainment…we want to know how to cultivate true contentment.  We want more than priciples…we want to Truth.

But in order for this to happen, those of us who pastor have to stop thinking about how to make empty seats full, and lead those who are commited to the church into authentic disciple-oriented lives.  They will then be the ones to “build” the church by “being the church” within their workplace and neighborhoods.  As well, the people who come each week should stop with their demands to be entertained and stroked.  Stop the mental church shopping where visions of bigger kids programs, sermon props, and state of the art media convince you to “chase cool”.

I guess the last thing I should say is that I can see how this might seem like a small church guy ranting against the big churches who have the resources to afford certain things we don’t.  That’s not it.  I know of plenty of big churches who have a missional approach to their existence, and small churches who emphasize cool more than being the church.  Size doesn’t matter when it comes to being the church, or chasing cool.  The point of the blog is to encourage every pastor or church goer who reads this, to be thoughtful about what their true hopes and intentions are for leading and attending church.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Am I making too much out of this idea of chasing cool?

Love and Peace.