We all know culture isn’t as tied into church as it once was. According to Barna research, from 1991 to 2004 the adult population in the United States grew by 15 percent, whereas the unchurched adult population grew by a shocking 92 percent. Many pastors I talk to are searching for help in reaching the unchurched and the de-churched.
First, let me applaud your efforts. I know God is grateful for the labor we’ve put forth to reach people. I also know that He alone is aware of the true impact of our ministry.
In Acts 8 we read how Philip preached to great crowds in Samaria and saw many converted. However, it’s noteworthy to me that, following Philip’s massive meetings, God instructed him to head south toward Gaza. On the way he met one man: a high-ranking Ethiopian governmental official who was reading from the book of Isaiah regarding the coming Messiah. Philip brought an understanding of Jesus to this seeker, and after answering his questions joyously baptized him. I’m challenged by the reality that Philip affected a city while preaching to Samaria’s crowds, whereas he potentially affected an entire nation by ministering to one man.
I am convinced that the early disciples didn’t understand the incredible impact their lives would have when they began. In John 20, we find these men huddled behind locked doors and afraid. Jesus obviously considered it necessary in the midst of their overwhelming fears to change their focus. He appeared to them and said: “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (v. 21). He knew the importance of settling their fears and of establishing strong faith in their hearts so they could be effective. In fact, Acts 1 says He spent 40 days convincing them that they could and must reach the people in their region.
We had a similar experience in our church in 1989. During a frustrating and unfruitful beginning in ministry, our leaders felt challenged to examine what we really believed about the future. We learned that what we allow our spirits to come into agreement with is very important.
We recognized factors that had convinced us we were capable of limited effectiveness: (1) Our demographics: Only 100,000 people lived within a 30-minute drive of our church; (2) Our facilities: We had a subpar facility in a trying location and our bathrooms needed help; (3) My preaching: I was young and inexperienced.
After identifying our fears, these devoted believers and I spent time together in prayer and planning. We began to allow the Holy Spirit to set our focus on new factors we believed could impact many lives in our community. They included:
As we began to focus on these, we were amazed at how strong our faith became and the number of lives we could affect for Christ. It’s also scary now to think of how much fruitfulness could have been lost because of the wrong focus.
Regardless of our challenges, pastors, let’s concentrate on keeping our focus right. People in today’s American culture need us more now than ever!
Jim Graff is the senior pastor of Faith Family Church in Victoria, Texas, and founder of Significant Church Network (significantchurch.com).
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