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Small Churches Can Take Off and Fly





Small airplane
(IStock photo)

My mom owned and managed a travel agency in San Diego, mostly because she loved to travel, and she truly enjoyed helping others travel. Mom loved hanging out at airports—really!

Airplanes fascinated her, and I caught the bug. To this day, I love a window seat in the terminal so I can sit and watch what’s happening on the tarmac while waiting till it’s time to board my flight.

Every time I see a Boeing 747 take off, I think, That should not fly! But it takes off beautifully each time. Check this out:

  • A 747-400 model can carry more than 600 passengers with their luggage.
  • It takes off at 180 mph and cruises at 565 mph.
  • It has 16 tires.
  • It has a maximum take-off weight of 910,000 pounds.
  • It can travel 7,260 nautical miles (8,350 land miles).

That list seems like the description of a megachurch when compared to a small church—both overwhelming and impossible to achieve.

But consider this:

The first flight by the Wright brothers was on Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, N.C., and lasted 12 seconds. The name of the plane was The Flyer. It peaked at 20 feet in the air, at 6.8 mph. Here’s what I really love: They flew 120 feet, a distance that could fit inside the coach section of a 747!

If you lead a small church, keep all this in mind. You might feel like you pastor The Flyer, but it could very well lead to something really big. The Wright brothers had no idea what their efforts would lead to, but they followed their dream and passion. That’s your job too. Stick with it and keep leading. Ultimately, God decides how big your church will become, but He has made it clear He intends for all churches to grow—to fly.

The following are three things that will be of immense help to your flight plans:

1. Keep your sights on the right thing. The Wright brothers weren’t trying to build a 747. They were just trying to fly! That led to amazing things for them and all of us. I meet too many pastors who want to start or take a church and then see it jump to something huge. That’s rarely how it works. Orville and Wilbur kept their sights focused on the main thing: flight!

What is your main thing (right thing)? No matter what your vision encompasses, I’ll bet that seeing people say yes to Jesus is somewhere deep in the core of your mission. If you stay focused on that, it will help you fly. Evangelism, by whatever name or method you prefer, must be the heartbeat of any local church that wants to fly. Don’t get stuck on the runway. Press hard to reach those who don’t know Jesus and don’t attend church.

2. Don’t surrender to discouragement. I can’t imagine how discouraged the Wright brothers must have become in the process of working through all the attempts that failed. But they didn’t give up. I’m convinced that one of the top tactics of the enemy is discouragement. If he can get you down, it’s hard for you to stay in the game and remain hopeful. Ministry is tough, and it can be really tough in a small church. Perhaps you are bivocational or don’t have staff or your leaders are few and some not supportive.

Here are six things to help beat the discouragement blues:

  • Remember your conversion. Reflect back on what God did for you through the Person of Jesus Christ. What a great gift. His love for you is immense and can help carry you through tough days.
  • Remember your calling. Your call to ministry is a high honor. Reflect back on when and why you said yes to vocational ministry. That wasn’t a mistake. You are needed in the effort to extend the kingdom of God!
  • Identify two or three spiritually mature supporters so you can talk to one of them every week. These individuals can be in your church or outside your church. The idea is to have cheerleaders in your life who love and support you, who will listen and speak the truth.
  • Find a leadership mentor to coach you two to three times a year for an hour or so. Candidly, you don’t need a leadership mentor on a frequent basis. That’s good, but not necessary. I recommend that you ask a pastor of a church about double the size of your church within a hundred miles of your church to go to lunch a couple times a year. It will take you that much time between meetings to put into practice all that you discuss together. If you are an overachiever, you can follow this plan with two leadership mentors!
  • Get better at what you do. Developing your leadership skills and your communication skills is essential. Your supporters and leadership coaches can help you, but most of it is up to you. Practice is what makes you better, and here’s the key: You must practice what you can’t do until you can. Practice is not about repeating what you are already doing. It’s about improving and becoming measurably better at what you do.
  • Lean into exercise and a hobby. I don’t want to get preachy, but since you have read this far, you know my only desire is to be helpful. Exercise is one of the best things in the world to increase energy and improve your state of mind. And doing something you enjoy for a hobby is emotionally healthy, and it’s fun! All these things will help you beat discouragement.

The last thing I want you to do is to look at this list and get discouraged. I’m not saying you must do all six things or it won’t work. In fact, I’m not saying that at all. Even one or two will help. The more you do, the better for you, but just tackle what you can to start.

3. Increase the level of spiritual intensity in your church. I’m not suggesting something weird, nor am I implying that you don’t pray deep and much. But I’m compelled to say that the intensity with which you pursue God and His favor has everything to do with the progress of your church. I truly believe that the favor of God is precious, priceless and powerful. I don’t believe He withholds it from any leader who sincerely desires it, but we must be careful how we define that favor.

In the natural, we might tend to think favor equals greater attendance. God may well see favor as changed lives! Either way I do believe your church will realize growth. But again, you don’t get to decide how much growth; God makes that determination.

There are many dimensions of spiritual intensity, such as worship, a heart for lost people, and prayer. Let me comment only on intensity and prayer. By "intensity in prayer," I don’t necessarily mean “loud and forceful” (though that can be great). I mean "more faith and fervency.” How strong is your faith? How much passion does your heart carry in your prayers?

As leaders, we don’t “work something up” when we pray. God doesn’t hear us better just because we get louder. But there is something real and distinctive about the heart of a leader who is desperate to see the power and presence of the living God show up in the ministry of their church.

God’s presence alone immediately makes any small church larger in spirit and greater in potential. In this we can all be encouraged and take flight!

Dan Reiland is executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.

For the original article, visit danreiland.com.

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