Is Bigger Always Better?
In the early 1990s my life was in crisis, but not the kind of crisis easily understood by most people. At the time, I had been serving my church, Faith Family Church in Victoria, Texas, for several years, and the Lord had blessed it. In just a few years, the church grew from two hundred fifty to several hundred more members. Like so many of us, whether in the ministry or the corporate culture, I had been conditioned to believe bigger was always better, so our increase in size meant success. Or did it?
Coming out of college, I wasn’t sure if God was calling me to full-time ministry. So I went on the mission field and preached throughout Africa and Eastern Europe. When I returned, I sensed the Lord leading me into pastoral ministry, and I was encouraged in this pursuit by trusted friends and family members. Not long after that God called me to Faith, which is in a small community in southeast Texas. Having grown up in a rural Pennsylvania community, I found Faith to be a perfect fit since I never wanted to lose that small-town feel of community.
The problem, though, was that most of my peers were serving in megachurches that boast thousands of members. With only hundreds attending Faith at the time, the difference between the numbers felt a little bit like failure even before I started. I needed to be moving toward a bigger and better church to pastor, right? Wasn’t that how I would know I was doing a good job? Don’t most of us, regardless of profession, mark our success by increasing our numbers?
Then my chance came. In 1993, a pastor and friend of my father-inlaw came to me and said, “Jim, I’m ready to hand over my life’s work. I’d like you to consider taking over my church.” Let me tell you, this church was every pastor’s dream: about two thousand active members, a large staff, financial stability, and more ministries than I could imagine. By the grace of God, this was my opportunity. Now I could have what I thought I wanted. So—certain I would say yes—I went to Arlington, but I left feeling that something just wasn’t right. I didn’t understand, though, what it could be.Football Fields and Faith
I knew God had a plan for my life, that he had called me, raised me up in ministry, led me to the mission field, and given me early success that enabled greater opportunity. And now this move to Arlington was the next logical step…right? But something nagged at my heart, and to tell the
truth, I was a little disappointed in myself for not jumping on the opportunity. I wanted my life to be like King David’s, whose life we’ll study in this book and whose godly leadership affected his generation in a significant way. So I wondered why I couldn’t get on board. I’ve come to believe, in the time since, that pastors, along with most of us, fight a battle between wanting versus having, and I just wasn’t sure that what I had at the time (a smaller church) was what I wanted. But truth be told, even after I found myself smack-dab in the middle of an opportunity to have what I thought I wanted (a megachurch), I still wasn’t satisfied. When I got back to Victoria, my brother-in-law invited me on a hunting trip in Arkansas, and it sounded like a great diversion. Driving north out of Texas, I received a glimpse into my discontent. As I passed through small town after small town, I discovered a truth about my dilemma in the high-school football stadiums along the roadside. Any of you who have seen Friday Night Lights
knows what football is to Texans. We love our football, and we support it with everything we’ve got. In almost every Texas community I passed, a stadium sat in the middle of town as a shrine to our love affair with football. But as I drove through these small towns, I noticed that these great football stadiums—built with the finest materials and engineering skills available—were sitting in the middle of communities filled with struggling churches. God used that observation to help me understand my heart. Those churches symbolized a different side of church life and made me realize why I needed to stay at Faith. These churches were guided by pastors and church leaders who had an important task to do. Their churches would probably never reach the size of many big-city churches, but they certainly had their own unique significance. If they embraced their roles, they could affect in very meaningful ways a higher percentage of the people in their town than most big-city churches ever would.
Then I realized something about myself: my upbringing in rural Pennsylvania, my love of small communities, my uneasiness about big cities— that’s how God made me. Those traits pointed to his purpose for me, and now I had a chance to use my gifts to enrich my smaller church as well as other smaller churches and even individuals who might be struggling with whether bigger is always better. Not long after I came home from that trip, I called my staff together. On the local front, I had always said, “I want Faith to be a place my friends would go.” Not just my Christian friends, but those friends who I knew needed a loving place to learn about God. I wanted Faith to accept the people of our local community; if people felt accepted, they would eventually ask the reason for our faith and, hopefully, join us at Faith. So I asked my church to dream about a diverse staff touching the people of our area through various gifts and interests. I wanted them to go beyond thinking of our individual talents alone and start focusing on our collective abilities and how together we could reflect Christ in our town. In short, I felt God was calling me to make Faith Family Church a significant influence in our community, no matter what our size. On a larger scale, my heart turned to overlooked people in America and around the world. With just a little research, I quickly learned that ninety million people live in America’s smaller cities and towns. If these ninety million were considered their own nation, they would be the thirteenth largest country on the planet. That is definitely significant! I guessed that we’d find some heroic believers laboring faithfully in these smaller churches, and we did. But I also wondered if we would find additional smaller cities and towns with an even greater need for ministry. And we definitely did! These discoveries made me start thinking about significance even more deeply, and I have come to realize since then that where significance is undiscovered, potential stays undeveloped.
That’s why these churches needed to know they were vital to God’s plan. Over 80 percent of our churches in America have less than two hundred people in them. What will happen in our country if they lose heart? Less than 2 percent of Americans attend megachurches, which means that the majority of American Christians are being discipled in much-needed smaller churches that must prosper if we are to fulfill what’s on God’s heart. We at Faith went to work dreaming on their behalf.
Smaller Towns, Bigger Impact
The movement took shape in 2000 when we surveyed pastors in over two thousand counties across America. While our ultimate vision is to help plant significant faith communities in every overlooked village in the world, we started with the United States, and our goal was simple: discover the state of the church in small-county American life and figure out how
to strengthen it. And 2000 was a strange year. Remember the “red” states that threw the election into a frenzy? Remember the national news media calling the Bush-Gore election in the early evening and then having to retract their announcement later that night? In the year we decided to figure out what was going on in small-town America, small-town America was putting itself back on the social and political map. To us at Faith, the election spoke of the significance of this community’s voice, of the potential that was ready to be unleashed for God’s kingdom. The survey revealed more than we bargained for, and it brought me into partnership with incredible pastors and church leaders doing impressive works largely unheard of. The survey also showed us that people everywhere, particularly in the rural areas and small counties of our country, long to know that who they are counts and what they do matters. It’s not just pastors and those in full-time ministry who long to know that what they spend their lives doing is worthwhile.
This is the good news: we are all
longing to make a difference, in our families, in our jobs, in our places of worship, in our neighborhoods, in all the places where we live life. And this is the even better news: we can
make a significant difference. Like King David centuries ago, we can change the world we live in—that’s what the survey conveyed to us. We saw in black and white that all those who honor God by reflecting his image and living out who he made them can be people of impact. Living a significant life is not just about building bigger churches or raising more dollars or increasing membership. It’s about becoming all God truly created us to be and living fully in his image as his children. That is when we discover our potential and live out our purpose.
Perhaps you’re feeling skeptical at this point. “That’s all fine and good, Jim,” you say, “but my faith is a little shaky right now, and life really isn’t so great. You pastors out there can find your significance, but I live in the real world.” My friend, you are exactly the person I’m writing to even as I’m writing to ministers who may have already glimpsed their significance. All of us need to realize that we don’t have to live a large life in the glare of a media spotlight to be important. We don’t have to be wealthy, dressed in the right designer duds, or driving the latest SUV to matter. We don’t need a title, an advanced degree, or an invitation to the White House. This book is written for people like you who want to make your relationships meaningful, who want to live happy and satisfied as you invest your life, and who believe that God has ordained us to live—a day at a time—a life of purpose and meaning. This is not a book of promises or formulas; it’s a book designed to help you explore your potential and honor your significance. So where do we begin? Well, once a year at our church, we get together and dream. Our starting point for dreaming can be found in Ephesians 3:20–21, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!”
We want people to see God at work in a special way, and we know the Bible clearly points out how this happens. We want to unleash God’s power to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” as he faithfully leads and guides us. We believe that history has confirmed what we believe to be true, and every year the group reminds me that we’re to be pursuing dreams that require us to work together with God.Eternal Significance Today
So where do we begin in our efforts to find our true significance, to live a meaningful life that fulfills our eternal potential every day? I believe that this fruit of significance begins with the seeds of hope that God placed within us all. Like David, we begin by tending those seeds—or Cs, as I like to call them—and cultivating them in five key areas: developing confidence,
being a person of character, concentrating
on God’s will, cooperating
with God (and others) in carrying out his plans, and participating in community.
So join me on an exciting journey of discovery and personal growth as we examine what it means to live the life for which God has created you. We’ll learn from the examples of some remarkably significant people, some famous and some you may never have heard of, some from the Bible and some from everyday life. Together we’ll discover what it means to live out eternity in real time, fulfilling our divine potential every day in ways that change our own lives as well as the lives of those around us. Turn the page and take that first step toward being who you were meant to be, a special someone living a significant life.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from A Significant Life by Jim Graff. Copyright © 2006 by Jim Graff. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.