It was with a weary heart that my sons and I loaded all the equipment into the back of our mini-van after another disappointing Sunday in our efforts to plant a new church in Central Vermont. We had started with high hopes of seeing a life-changing church started in a town that was facing a growing opioid crisis, troubled youth roaming the streets and broken families in abundance. For three years we had labored. We met in a conference room at a local hotel. My sons, ages 9 and 11, helped set up the sound equipment each week. They ran the sound board and passed out the bulletins. My wife ran the hospitality center, making coffee and pastries weekly. My daughter, who was 13, taught Sunday School in the hallway outside the meeting room, as we had nowhere else to do it.
Some weeks we would have 60, and it felt like we were making progress. Other weeks we would have less than 30, and it felt like this church was never going to get off the ground. My wife and I were paying most of the church bills out of our own meager contribution. It was a long, weary three years and it seems like we would take one step forward and then two steps back.
But then God decided to do something different. Through a bizarre turn of events, a warehouse on the other side of town became available. We rallied the church as best as we could and made a bold commitment to buy and renovate that old metal building. God provided friends to help do the work and funds from all sorts of mysterious places we could not have dreamed of. We moved into the new space. It was simple, under-stated, but it was what we could afford.
And people started showing up! We quickly doubled in size. Then we doubled again. Eight years later we were running 220 in worship on a weekly basis, with over 300 on special days. We had planted four daughter congregations and had a youth group of over 120 each week, mostly from non-Christian families. God called numerous young men into the ministry out of that youth group. What looked like it was going to be a colossal flop became a rousing success to the glory of Christ.
In retrospect, I ask myself often what changed the situation. Yes, the change of location was a good one. But honestly, the hotel conference room looked prettier than our warehouse and had better parking. The music was about the same, though we did have a better sound system. The preaching was still just me and whatever intern I could find who would work cheap. I’m not one hundred percent sure why God decided to pour out His blessings on us, but I think it had a lot to do with our faithfulness. We stuck it out when things got tough. We refused to quit when it seemed like nothing was happening. We trusted that when God’s Word goes forth, it does not return void. We believed that if we lifted up Jesus, people would be drawn to Him. And they were.
Now I serve a network with 50 church plants and 300 established churches. I remind the pastors all the time that just because the numbers don’t look like we want them to, if we are preaching the Word and lifting up Jesus, something is happening, even if we can’t see it. And when God is ready, the results will be made known to all.
So if your ministry is in a hard place, hang in there. Don’t quit. God is at work and He will bring the results when the time is right.