When Liz and I were still in the pre-planting stages of the Ithaca Vineyard, we would go to any church planting conference we could find. And while a lot of the stuff didn’t really make sense until we were actually starting the church, there was one thing that I kept hearing over and over…In fact it seemed like every speaker I heard was saying this same thing over and over. Eleven years into this thing, I’d have to say it is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.
Although it was said in various ways, the key point that was hammered into my head 11 years ago was, “that if you are looking for a great way to kill your church, try to make everybody happy.” Over and over they said, once you plant your church, people will come in and try and get you to buy onto their agenda. And once you give up your vision for someone else’s its all over.
In my innocence I figured they were probably overstating the point. It is funny how many church planters hear stories from those who went before them and think, “that will never happen to me.” I’m pretty sure that everything I said would never happen to us, has happened to us.
On our first ever Sunday service back in February 1999, two families who were not part of our planting team showed up…(considering there was a blizzard outside, that was pretty exciting!) They kept coming back for a few weeks in a row, and then one of the families invited us over for dinner. We ate and after dinner while the kids played, they handed me an article and stated that this was a description of the type of church they were looking to join. As you can probably guess, the direction they were going, was not what we were called to do. At the same time…we really wanted these people to stay…In my head couldn’t afford to loose anybody at that stage.
So over the next couple of days, we prayed, I talked to my church planting coach, and in the end I had to tell this, that while I really hoped that they would be a part of the Ithaca Vineyard, what they were looking for was not the direction we were going in.
As you might have guessed, they came up to me one Sunday and said “Just wanted you to know, that we’ve decided we’re going to another church.” (Oh, & they told me right before I was about to speak…I’m sure you can guess how much fun that was…did I mention that it was also the day before I was going into the hospital for major surgery?)
While it got a bit easier with time, we have had to have that conversation a lot over the years. (All of those conferences we went to before we planted this church have paid off!)
We just passed our our 11th anniversary as a church, and thankfully have a few more than two families! Last fall Liz and I were in the mall and ran into that couple from way back when. (actually, we ran into one of them). We asked how they were doing how the kids were & where they were going to church. Turns out, since they left us, they’ve been to a couple of churches that ended up with an implosion of one degree or another. And at this point they haven’t been going to church anywhere for quite a while.
That was a heart-breaking conversation, because they really were good people, but in the midst of that I was really struck with this idea that you can try to do what everyone else thinks you should be doing, or what you believe God wants you to do. It isn’t always easy, & it definitely won’t make you popular, but if God has given you something to do, then just do that, and you’ll be amazed at the people he brings alongside you who have that same vision!
Photo Credit: Gravestone