When I was in college I was exposed to a church that ran 4-5,000 people. I heard some of their senior staff say that everything they did was planned with 10,000 people in mind.
In some of the ministry coaching I’ve received in recent years I have been posed this question, “Are your systems ready if your church doubled next Sunday?”
I think there is wisdom in conversations like this, HOWEVER….
If you are anything like me you have seen this idea backfire or be misused to the detriment of the current realities (and people currently involved). My mom used to tell me when I was a teenager that I was “acting too big for my britches.” If you aren’t familiar with this vernacular it is acting bigger/older/smarter/etc that who you really are.
So in leadership and pastoring we must find the healthy balance between dreaming about, planning for and creating systems around our desired future of more people without our current systems and processes being out of touch with the present realities.
It’s like saying, while I believe my 7 year old son will one day wear a men’s size 10 shoe, if I bought them for him now he wouldn’t be able to walk. So how do I manage that tension in leadership:
- Make sure your systems work today.
If you have 50 people make sure your systems effectively serve 50 people well. Regardless of your desire for 250 or 500 to attend your church, you will lose those 50 people if your systems don’t serve them well.
2. Paint the picture of tomorrow, today.
Look for creative, consistent ways to communicate, in public, about what could be. I would encourage you not to make this about numbers all the time (or ever). The problem with numbers is anyone that can count can easily tell if you’ve missed the mark, and they rarely give you the benefit of time. You don’t have to talk about having 1000 people next Easter unless you’ve really heard from God and/or you believe that is the best way to expand what’s possible for your people. You can talk more passionately about creating space for people far from God. Tell stories, where possible, of the kinds of recent successes you hope to duplicate more regularly in the future.
3. Be realistic with your expectations.
I talked about my 7 year old son earlier. He weighs about 40 pounds and the doctors want him to gain a little weight to catch up to the “normal” curve for kids his age. He’s healthy, just doesn’t weigh a whole lot. It wouldn’t be realistic for me to think that he could weigh 100 pounds by next week. And yet, that’s what we do in ministry so often. We average 20 students per week in our youth ministry, but we order enough food for 150 for our lock-in because we hope that’s how many will show up. That’s not a realistic expectation unless we have done some major push to get more people there.
Create systems and buy supplies that are connected in some way to your present reality. That’s not a lack of faith, that’s good stewardship.
4. Spend “more time” leading now, and “some time” planning for what’s next.
I try to set aside at least 1 day every other month for what I call “Dream Day”. This day isn’t worried about logistics, details, why things can’t be done, or the budget. I just dream about what could be.
I prayerfully search my future for what God might intend to bless for my family, staff, church and more.
The other 59 days I live in the present, which may actually involve putting details to some dreams. Both are important. If I’m not thinking about the next growth season, when I get there we will be unprepared. If I’m thinking about it too much I become out of touch with my present reality. In some seasons I need more dreaming. In other seasons I need more present leading. Ask the Lord (and your spouse, your coach, or your team if you aren’t sure) for the discernment to know which one needs your attention now.
5. Dream Big!
Don’t limit God. Dream new dreams! Believe for growth! Plan for more people than you have now! Expose yourself to voices that stretch your thinking.
No matter how long you are in leadership this will be a tension to be managed. Lead today, and lean into tomorrow.
I’m pulling for you!