The Day My Church Lost Hundreds of Converts – And I Learned to Be OK With It

How will this benefit me?People can behave in ugly ways when we try to take the credit that should be God’s alone.

This is a story of one of those times.

It’s a story that might upset some people, because it airs some of our dirty laundry. (If the title hasn’t ticked you off already, that is.)

But it’s also a personal confession. It puts my dirty laundry out there, too.

This is how some good people in my church taught their pastor an important lesson about what the kingdom of God is really all about.

 

What Cooperation Can Do

Years ago, our church signed up to cooperate with a huge evangelistic event that came to a nearby baseball stadium. We put up their posters, invited our people and sent volunteers to be trained as prayer counselors.

One of the benefits of being a participating church was that we would be entrusted with following up on some of the new believers who would fill out decision cards.

Their system worked great. Two of our leaders went through their follow-up class, giving them a level of training on discipling new converts that our Small Church wasn’t equipped to offer on our own.

Those who had been trained for prayer and counseling (including me) were told how to be available near the stage when people responded to the salvation call. The volunteers who had been trained in long-term follow-up would be led to a back room as soon as the altar call started. The cards of those who made salvation commitments would be brought to that room to be distributed according to where the new converts lived. The churches closest to them would be the ones to do the follow-up.

 

When Competition Gets In the Way

Being in the crowd around the stage as people came forward to make commitments to Christ was wonderful. It was a thrill beyond description to be among hundreds of people as we prayed, cried and rejoiced with people being born into new life in Christ.

Afterwards, the small group of prayer volunteers from our church gathered in the parking lot. We excitedly shared our experiences with each other. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on cards from new converts who lived near our church, so we could call them and start discipling them.

Then our follow-up volunteers arrived. And they weren’t happy. They were angry.

Their experience in the back room hadn’t been like ours on the stadium field. When the decision cards started coming in, instead of working together and dividing the cards according to geographical location, the room became something that, according to one of the volunteers, “was worse than Walmart on Black Friday.”

Volunteers grabbed cards by the handful and wouldn’t let go. Some churches that had been there in previous years had stationed themselves strategically to get more cards than others. There were other stories, too. But telling them would just be hurtful.

The volunteers from my church were so disgusted with the entire display, they left the room without even trying to get any cards.

“What was the point?” they asked. “We didn’t come to compete with other churches, we came to cooperate with them. I wasn’t going to fight with another Christian to follow up on a new believer.”

 

A Bigger Vision Than My Church

When they first started telling us the stories of churches grabbing convert cards by the handful, I was upset. Part of me was upset at the poor way this critical aspect of this otherwise very effective event was handled.

But I’m ashamed to say I was also upset at my volunteers. I was angry that they hadn’t been more aggressive. I wanted them to grab handfuls of cards themselves.

There you go, I thought. Months of recruiting, training and fundraising, all over in few moments. And my guys didn’t even have the initiative to get in there and grab some cards for us.

I wanted our church’s fair share. We’d worked really hard to get into that room, only to have our volunteers lose hundreds of converts to those greedy churches. I wanted us to be one of those greedy churches!

But I learned something as I listened to the words and saw the hearts of my church members that day. They left disillusioned, but with their integrity intact. Since then, I’ve tried to follow their lead.

 

An Ego-Free Church is a Healthy Church

I’m not telling this story to put anyone down. That’s why I haven’t told you what evangelistic event it was. Or the names of the churches whose volunteers got so grabby. And I’m not against large evangelistic events. I know many people who have come to a lasting faith in Jesus through them.

But this story is a picture of how we can get our priorities out of whack when we emphasize the growth of our church over the growth of the church. When I want the credit that belongs to God alone, people can become nothing more than a stack of cards, and fellow Christians become obstacles to overcome.

I’ve matured since that day. Today, when someone comes to faith in Jesus, I truly don’t care what pastor they sit in front of on the following Sunday morning. As long as they’re in a bible-believing church, that’s all that matters.

As a Small Church pastor, I’ve actually led people to the Lord, then connected them to a church other than ours. And not because our church isn’t a great church – it is. But we don’t have a full menu of ministries. We’re not the best church for everyone. If someone needs something we can’t offer, why not send them to another good church that can serve them better than we can?

Imagine what the churches in any city or town could do if we truly laid aside our petty jealousies and competitiveness. If we really acted with cooperation, not competition. If we really didn’t care so much if our church grew, as long as the church grew.

Let’s share the burden of being co-laborers in the vineyard. And let’s leave all the credit – and the glory – to Jesus.

 

So what do you think? Have you ever found yourself struggling against you own ego in trying to build the church?

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(How Will This Benefit Me? photo from hragv • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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9 thoughts on “The Day My Church Lost Hundreds of Converts – And I Learned to Be OK With It”

  1. Karl this is AWESOME. Truly it is. My husband, as a bi-vocational minister has done what you said. He’s led people to Christ and helped them attend the church of their youth (not our church)…I shared that story on a FB page and was told my husband was crazy. This particular pastor said that his church was the best, he was the best pastor and that’s why he tried so hard to get people to his church and if our church wasn’t “good enough” then there was something wrong. Shew. That just didn’t sit well with me. It really amazes me how this mentality has permeated our Body. May God shake us up and make us ONE.

      1. Karl – your stories are better…they’re in person. Mine are all FB (albeit true)…and yes, I have a life outside of FB! lol 😀

    1. Mike, I have to stop reading your stuff while drinking coffee. I nearly snorted it up my nose.

      You can keep ’em, Mike. Any time a fisherman is willing to give some of his catch back, it’s because something’s starting to stink. (Gotta laugh about it, right?)

  2. Karl, I finally have a little time to write you. I’m the senior dude at a small church and I’ve been busy fixing a leak in the men’s bathroom. It’s my calling…

    Somebody passed your blog on to me a couple of months ago and I’m always inspired by your words. We were probably neighbors in my previous life. I’m born and raised in SoCal. I was on staff at a big dog church in HB for years…taught youth ministry at a local Christian college in the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s…and I even have a grad degree in “Church Growth”, of all things! And I was always a square peg in a round hole.

    For the past 18 years, I’ve been shepherding a smaller (200-300) renegade church of misfits in the great state of Texas. Let me tell you, it’s another world…but I can’t imagine a more fulfilling, challenging and Kingdom-affirming thing I could ever be doing with my life. I would never choose to go back to what I used to do…though the beaches in Texas leave much to be desired!

    Every Thursday morning when I hang out with 15 or 20 guys from our church family at the local Whataburger (our version of In and Out), we solve the world’s problems, make fun of each other, and chew up my sermon from the previous Sunday…and I am reminded, again and again, that these are guys that “need” our kind of church. In fact, I believe that many of them would simply be lost without it.

    What we do and how we do it, is totally built for these guys (and others like them). Some of them walked away from megas years ago. Others just need the healthy chaos of a big family (smaller church) to work out their faith and find niches to express their love and gratitude to God. It’s how they are wired.

    I’m grateful there are people who want to be ten feet away from the guy who is teaching out of God’s Word on Sunday mornings…who knows their mess…and are willing to walk with me through mine. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Keep throwing down the truth. Your words of encouragement are needed by so many. I’m constantly blown away by the numbers of men and women who are nearly crushed by discouragement as they labor in smaller church families…as well as those who serve in churches driven to continually get bigger as quickly as possible. I’ll keep doing my part…you keep doing yours. It’s needed.

    Hey, maybe we’ll even get to meet each other someday. It would be my privilege.

    Peace. Mike

    1. Mike, I LOVE this! You’re right on so many levels. And your church sounds really great. There are a lot of people who just aren’t built to grow spiritually in a megachurch environment. (and almost as many who have the same issues with a Small Church environment.) That’s why we need all sizes and types.

      I’m so happy you were able to tear yourself away from the leak in the men’s room to tell us your story. Which leads me to this…

      There’s a post I’ve been thinking about writing at some point in the future, but your tongue-in-cheek men’s room comment made me decide that the future is now. I’m going to write it for tomorrow. The tentative title is “Sometimes You Gotta Kill Cockroaches”. I may even give you a shout-out in it.

      Thanks for checking in. And I’d love to meet you in person some day, too.

  3. I have also seen/experienced similar situations…
    The key is pressing on and continuing in the Spirit as we are called to do.

    YES! The only thing that really should matter is that THE Church grow, PERIOD.

    I always get a kick out of running into someone who once hung out with us, short or long term, and they get that uncomfortable stammer going…”Uh…Oh…Hey…pastor…Uh…Ya know….I’ve been busy….Uh…and the wife’s been sick…Uh…been meaning to stop in….Uh….Oh….”
    My trained (much discipline here) response to them is “Well, are you somewhere?”
    Again, much discipline and many bit lips!

    This was a great article Karl!

    Oh and to Mike from Texas…when you do get that chance to meet Karl, he’s taller in person that the pic on this blog shows him to be!!!

    (Hope you weren’t drinking coffee Karl)
    Love Ya Bro!!!

    1. Ah yes, the awkward encounter. Like the only thing we have going on in our lives is wondering “why weren’t you in church last week!?”

      BTW, of course I’m taller in person. That pic is like, 2 inches tall!

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