You don't want to be frustrated. You don't want to be disappointed. You don't want to be angry. But, you look out from the stage as you are just about to begin preaching and, for a moment, your heart sinks because the room is not as full as you'd like it to be. (And then you get frustrated with yourself for allowing such an unholy thought to even cross your mind in the first place!)
Over the first five years of my church planting journey, this has happened all too often!
Regardless of increased marketing. Regardless of the social media onslaught. Regardless of giving people all the tools they need to be able to invite their friends. Regardless of the "seeker sensitive" sermon series. Regardless of the amount of time invested praying and fasting. Regardless of every physical and spiritual effort you put forth to increase weekend attendance, it just doesn't happen.
So what do you do? How do you maintain your sanity? How do you lead faithfully when the "fruit" that you are convinced you should be experiencing is not a reality? How do you press forward when your idea of how good of a leader you are and the results you see aren't one in the same?
Because this struggle has been all too real for me, hear are a few thoughts that I need to remind myself of (pretty much every week!) so that I don't lose my mind!
IT'S OK TO DESIRE GROWTH.
Firstly, don't condemn yourself for wanting more people to be present and engaged with your ministry. That is not a desire from the devil! You are preaching the gospel. You are making disciples. You are dispensing hope. You are connecting people. You are serving your city. I would be concerned about you and the quality of your ministry if you didn't desire that more people experience it!
IT'S NOT OK TO BE UNGRATEFUL.
Secondly, instead of wasting your emotional energy on what isn't, invest it in what is. Celebrate who did show up. Praise God for the lives that are being transformed. Share the stories of the testimonies that are being told. Express gratitude for the people who God is giving you the opportunity to impact for His glory. When who is not involved with your ministry consumes more of your mind than who is, you are being an unfaithful steward.
The cure for discontent is gratitude. When you find yourself discontent with what God is doing (or not doing) in your church, repent and spend an extended period of time thinking through and thanking God for each and every blessing He is bestowing upon your ministry. And don't do this to make you feel better, do this primarily because God is worthy of this praise! We are entitled to nobody! The fact that God would allow sinful and wretched sinners like you and I to partner with Him in advancing His Kingdom on earth is an absolute miracle. That God would use us to reach even one is only a credit to His grace and mercy on us. Our inability to be grateful for who God has graced us with may be an indicator of an overestimation of who we think we are!
IT'S NECESSARY TO SANCTIFY YOUR MOTIVATIONS.
Finally, if you haven't learned this yet about church planting, make this note: God has called you to plant a church not so that you would reach others, but so that He could reach you! Surprise! Though God will, obviously, reach and transform many people as a result of your calling, the heart that He is most concerned with in your congregation is yours.
I am convinced that the reason why God withholds growth in many of our churches is because He wants the men and women who lead these churches to be purged of our unholy ambitions. He wants to be the supreme treasure of our hearts, not the size or success of our church. He wants the health of His Bride not Her "size" to be our primary care and concern!
By withholding growth, our hearts are laid bare before ourselves, our spouses, our teams, our church, and our community. Why did you decide to plant a church in the first place - to become somebody or to make much of Someone? Because the unsettling truth is this, you can't do both.
One last thought, I know we usually use the verse, "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it" as a way to encourage people, but I want to use this verse to leave you with a more discouraging thought that I hope will be encouraging. Ha! If you don't "get over" this attendance thing and find a sense of true contentment and peace in what God is doing in your ministry, God WILL be faithful to accomplish this work in you. And if that means keeping your church at the size that you dread, best believe, HE. WILL. DO IT.