By Michael C. Mack
A small group leader was struggling and wanted my help. Mary Jane’s women’s group had dwindled to four, and she wanted me, the small groups minister, to help her find more women, or she would quit leading.
Mary Jane was a good leader, and I wanted to encourage her to stick with it. I quickly asked God to give me words to help me help her.
“Keep being faithful with the people God has already given you,” I said, “and I know God will bring more people to your group.”
The answer God gave me for Mary Jane is a basic biblical stewardship principle best summarized by Jesus: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10). God provides us with everything we need, according to his riches, as we partner with him to carry out his purposes. That includes the people he has put in our group, class, church, family, and sphere of friends. He increases our responsibilities and opportunities when we are faithful stewards with what, or whom, he has already given us. He won’t add to our number if we’re not faithful with the few we presently have.
In this issue you will see many examples of God supplying all the needs of his church, fulfilling Jesus’ promise, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). And as Ashley Wooldridge quips in his article, “The church is resilient. If the gates of hell can’t destroy it, a pandemic won’t either.”
I’m again thankful to Kent Fillinger, who conducted our 2020 survey and then analyzed the results from 421 churches. This year the tables include several new categories related to pandemic closures and online attendance. For the first time, we are including the tables from all six size categories in one issue. Kent’s analysis of how COVID-19 affected these churches is fascinating, and we can learn much from the findings. There are a couple areas to be concerned about, but we have much to be thankful for. Remember that our survey is simply a snapshot in time. We realize it cannot tell the whole story of the church or give a complete outlook on the future. But Kent will continue to provide updates in his Metrics column in future issues.
This year we’ve also included 12 “Church Spotlights,” two from each size category, that tell the stories behind the statistics. They demonstrate that our churches are resilient. They also show that our churches are innovative, mission-focused, and God-honoring. Each of our other feature articles in this special issue (perhaps the largest Christian Standard issue in our long history), focuses on a different aspect of being the church post-pandemic.
Yes, 2020 was a year full of tough circumstances, but I think most leaders understand that tough circumstances are a part of life, and how we deal with them matters most. I’m saddened when I see people give in to and eventually give up in the midst of their difficulties. They focus on their predicament rather than on Jesus’ presence, power, and purposes.
Mary Jane was a good leader, but she was stuck in the muck of her current circumstances and couldn’t see past them to what God could do through the four people in her small group. She forgot that even where two or three gather in Jesus’ name—that is, meeting as his followers for his purposes—he is there with them. She saw success only in terms of numbers in her group, so in her eyes her group was unsuccessful, which meant she was a failure. Unfortunately, she gave up leading.
That’s too bad. I believe God could have used Mary Jane in ways she couldn’t even imagine.
Like Mary Jane, our numbers may be down from last year because of the pandemic or a thousand other reasons. God is looking for us to be faithful before he’ll make us fruitful.
So stay faithful, investing into the people you have. Love them, bring back any strays, shepherd them, disciple them, teach them how to reach lost people, develop them, help them bear fruit, multiply them. Make disciples who make disciples. And in his timing, God will give you more.
An apple seed, when sewn in good ground and then watered and cultivated, grows, bears fruit, multiplies, and in time becomes an apple orchard. Sow some seed. Water it. God will make it grow.
PS: If you’re a regular reader, you’ll undoubtedly notice several new things in this issue. The most obvious is that this is our first two-month issue. Starting in May we are publishing every other month. Jerry Harris wrote about this change in his March Letter from the Publisher, which you can find at ChristianStandard.com/2021/03/Moving-Forward. Speaking of which, in February, we launched a brand-new website; same address but with a beautiful new interface that’s easier to navigate. The Lookout Bible study material can now be found exclusively on our website. Also, we are excited about two new columns in this issue. “Lead,” by Don Wilson, provides encouragement for leaders as well as biblical leadership principles, strategies, and tactics. “Preach,” by Chris Philbeck, presents encouragement and practical ideas and tips for both new and experienced preachers and teachers. We plan to continue expanding our lineup of columns in our July/August issue.