When I was in middle school I published my own newspaper. It was a riveting journal of all things sports. It was in the mid-90’s and I used the Microsoft Works program which came on my trusty AST computer. It was a bit difficult downloading the photos with my 14.4kbps dial-up internet, but I just used the download time to write more articles. It was also a tad disappointing having to print them in black & white, but we couldn’t afford a color printer.
I plodded along and churned out a few editions of The Sports Gazette. I even went to the local grocery store and spent ten cents per page to make a copy for my readers…even though my readership stood at a booming zero customers. (Actually I think I got an uncle to buy a copy for 50 cents one time).
And then my whole business changed. I got a color printer for Christmas and our dial-up speed went up to 28.8. This revolutionized my little paper. I remember my first new edition with the exciting header: Now in Color! I couldn’t wait to get this new edition out on the market.
Let me give you a little peek into my twisted brain. As I was writing all of these articles I was doing it for the whole world to see. I wanted each article to be written with excellence. Each photo had to pop. The outline had to be perfect. I spent days on each issue, because I knew a good magazine would mean more and more readers. And somehow I never got discouraged. I loved writing. I loved seeing the finished project. All my imaginary customers loved it.
But here’s the deal. Not a single person notice my special “now in color” edition. It did not mean a single thing to the outside world. When I revamped The Gazette nobody noticed. And when I quit publishing The Gazette nobody noticed.
Fast forward about fifteen years and I’m a twenty-something sitting at the keyboard designing my first blog. High school and college had burned me out on writing, but I rediscovered my passion for writing through blogging. This blogging thing was amazing. And just as I did as a middle school student, I wrote every single article as if the whole world was watching.
And for a really long time nobody cared.
I made changes to the format, I worked hard on my writing, published articles that I figured people would care about, and did many of the things bloggers were supposed to do. And nobody noticed. Not a single change that I made to the blog in those early days mattered one bit as far as gaining new readers.
But it was not all a loss…
How This Relates to Ministry
This has served as a lesson for me as a pastor. Those outside your church don’t come to your church because of things you do inside your church. Unless you want to attract church hoppers who behave like cats chasing laser pointers, nobody cares about your slick campaigns or the changes you make inside your doors. Simply because they don’t know they exist. Nobody cared about my new color edition of The Gazette because nobody was reading what I wrote. I could have put millions of dollars into each copy and hired the best of writers and it wouldn’t have added a single reader.
Churches mostly grow the same way my blog did, by faithful plodding and word of mouth. I write because I love to write. Yes, I write as if everybody will read this. And I pursue excellence because of that. But I don’t write so that everybody will read. There is a big difference in those two sentences.
Churches are going about things backwards when we put so much energy and effort into trying to compete with the world and entertain people into our doors. Yes, we should make sure that when we gather we are sensible to unbelievers and visitors to our church. But at the end of the day the most effective thing to do is to pursue faithfulness (read excellence if you desire) for the sake of Christ and for the congregation that is right before us.
If you do stuff for the sake of growth it’s going to bite you and drain you and have you chasing an ever moving target. But if you do things simply because it’s right to do them, you’ll be in a better shape for when God does bring growth to your church. Do things as if the whole world is watching, but do them the same way whether you’ve only got an audience of One.
Photo source: here