Based on the investigation of Lifeway research [linked below], Outreach magazine recently reported that Substance is officially one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S.! Way to go Substance! Officially, we’re number 8 in terms of national growth percentages, and number 21 in terms of overall numbers. (Go God!) Especially as we hit our 6th Anniversary this last weekend. It’s crazy that we could already be on a who’s-who list of church growth! What a great God we serve.
Recently, I was sitting around a table of church planters laughing about all of the things we did during our small beginnings. (Because it’s finally funny now : ) I remember crying tears of joy when our first “church copy-machine” was delivered into our home’s basement. Of course, it was right next to our laundry chute. So, every once in a while, our church volunteers would have to step over my underwear. (I remember this because my wife and I got into a “heated discussion” about clearing it before volunteers came over). Of course, over time, I just had to accept the fact that my polka-dot boxer shorts might make a few cameo appearances.
I also vividly remember using my wife’s hair-dryer to melt the ice off of our trailer locks the night before church so that I could personally unload our portable church boxes quicker the next morning. It was a humbling season. But heck: It wasn’t that long ago. I mean: We’re still in our “beginning phase.” After all, we didn’t even have church offices until last year. But it sure helps to remember that God is promoting our efforts faster than we ever imagined.
Keep in mind: Our attendance numbers are only one of the many things we measure here at Substance. Big numbers absolutely do not equal “health” in my book. But we’re fools if we think they don’t matter to God. The book of Acts constantly mentions very specific numbers regarding salvations and those who joined the church. So, who are we to think we’re “more spiritual” by overlooking them. The Bible even says that “numbering things” is a sign of compassion (like God “numbering the hairs on our heads”). It means that people matter. In fact, I believe that it’s downright ungrateful to ignore numeric growth. After all, these numbers represent someone’s long-lost brother, father, or daughter who couldn’t previously connect with church.
In fact, “numbers” is a small part of why I left my previous church to plant a new work. There were many Christians who were more concerned about having their special little church service than they were about reaching unchurched people. Of course, there were also many wonderful people at that church who fought the good fight with me. So don’t misunderstand me: On many levels, it was a wonderful church. But, every year many of those unconcerned people would say: “We may not have growth but we have depth.” Unfortunately, I began to realize that many of these Christians had neither. You see, worship & teaching experiences can ironically become a self-centered exercise. We pretend to seek the face of God… and yet, his face is often weeping for lost people (the ones we ignore so that we can find more time to cloister ourselves doing allegedly deep experiences). Don’t get me wrong… a person can’t live on “milk” or superficial Christian experiences all the time. But the motives that often drive our “liturgy” often have little to do with a passion to reach more people.
So here’s a challenge to you straight from God’s word: Luke 15 teaches us that heaven rejoices more over one sinner who repents than 99 righteous people shouting his praise at the top of our lungs. Frankly, this is a pretty disproportionate response. Yet it shows that heaven has a radically different priority scheme than most Christians. It tells us that we need to be careful about “Christian pursuits” that do not fully comprehend the urgent last days in which we live.
This same study that ranked Substance also showed that we have a very small number of churches in Minnesota who are actually prevailing in fulfilling God’s vision in Luke 15. Of course, this doesn’t make us better than anyone else. Rather, it makes us more responsible. It means that we need to learn how to be a life-giving voice towards heaven’s priorities… even when other Christians accuse us and malign us for not prioritizing their spiritual agendas.
After all, fruitfulness is one of the ways we can know that we’re still connected to Christ (Jn 15). And fruitfulness is always measurable. It’s always numeric. And, yes: Fruitfulness requires that we measure far more than just attendance. But, it’s certainly not less than this.
So my challenge to you: Don’t be someone we count. Be someone we count on. And when we go all-in with our time, energy, and finances, you too will feel the joy that can only come by being someone who shoulders the burdens of a church like Substance! I love you all! Happy 6th Anniversary!
Ps. Here’s a link to the actual pdf list! Happy Reading!