Last month, the second anniversary of NewSmallChurch.com passed by without notice. No, I don’t feel sad that none one sent me a card. Hallmark doesn’t sell “Your blog is two years old today!” cards.
I just didn’t remember it myself. I’m not big on anniversaries.
But we have passed that two-year mark, so I decided to take a moment to reflect on what’s happened in the last 24 months and what I’ve learned from it.
Mostly, it’s re-affirmed the premise of this blog and The Grasshopper Myth – that playing the numbers game in ministry is a dangerous thing.
Yes, reaching more people is better than reaching fewer people. This blog and my book have reached ten times more people in these two years than I expected to reach in my lifetime, and I’m profoundly grateful for that. After all, we write, preach, teach and pastor to touch people’s lives. It’s appropriate that we want those efforts to have a positive impact on as many people as possible.
But readership, like church attendance numbers, can only tell us so much. And some of what we think they’re telling us is false.
I may have learned more in two years of blogging than I have in any other two year span of ministry. Here are some lessons, some blessings and some cautions.
1. All Real Ministry Is a Marathon
As a Small Church pastor for over 30 years, I’ve gotten used to doing ministry without seeing immediate, tangible, numerical results. I know I’m in a marathon, not a sprint.
But blogging has a totally different dynamic.
Blogging is about immediate gratification. It has given me a faster sense of accomplishment than anything I’ve ever done in ministry. From the moment I hit publish, I can watch readers come in. Within an hour there are hundreds of clicks. On a big day, there can be thousands. For a guy whose ministry has never attracted more than a couple hundred people, even on a big attendance weekend, that’s heady stuff. If I’m not careful, I can find myself obsessing over it.
It’s ironic. Here I am, obsessing over the number of readers coming to a blog post about how numbers shouldn’t be so important to us. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad. I guess it’s a bit of both.
2. An Anonymous Click Is Indistinguishable From a Life-Changing Read
I can see when people click on one of my posts. I can even get stats on how long the average person spent reading it. But numbers can’t tell me the most important thing about what I’ve written. They can’t tell me how much a person’s life and ministry was changed by it.
I love the days when over 1,000 people read a post, pass it around and get a great conversation started. But there are other days when 1,000 people read my post, shrug their shoulders and go on.
I get disappointed by days when I’ve written something that I think is really good, helpful and important, only to see 100 or fewer people read it. But I know that on some of those days, one or more of those readers is in tears by the end of the post, because it lifted a burden that has sat on their shoulders for decades. They and their ministry are changed for the better.
It’s the same in pastoring. The size of the crowd is not an accurate measure of the size of our impact.
3. When the Numbers are Up I Feel a False Sense of Pride
On my biggest day, I had almost 5,000 readers. It takes 6 months for me to speak to that many people in my church. By noon that day, as I watched the numbers rise, I felt an electricity that has to be something similar to a drug high (a feeling I’m completely unfamiliar with).
As the numbers rose, I couldn’t concentrate on other tasks at hand. I had an appointment with a church member who was struggling with some very serious life issues, but instead of going into that meeting in prayerful consideration of those needs, I started feeling resentful of her. She was going to eat up more than an hour of my precious time! An hour without checking in on my soaring numbers. Didn’t she know how important I was?!
My numbers mattered more to me than her pain.
I was just about to walk into my office to meet her, when I realized my sinful attitude. I paused at the door of my office and prayed. I repented of my foolish pride. Then I laid my pride aside and spent the next hour comforting and praying with someone who had gone through more agony in the previous six months than I have experienced in my life.
The numbers weren’t so important any more.
4. When the Numbers are Down I Feel a False Sense of Failure
On the days when no one seems to care about what I write, I’ve had to struggle with many of the “what’s wrong with me?” feelings I though I had overcome years ago. Sometimes, the article I wrote is literally about how numbers shouldn’t matter so much to us, but there I am, getting upset when the numbers don’t come in.
The flip-side of pride is shame. Neither one is Godly or helpful.
Obsessing over numbers feeds both.
5. Conversations Mean More than Statistics
One of the blessings of the last two years is all the people I’ve had great conversations with. From pastors who have been blessed by this ministry, to church leaders who are excited to have a tool to give to the pastors they work with, and more.
I’ve learned more from the conversations I’ve had with them than from any statistical assessment I could possibly have done. I’m a better minister, a better Christian and a better person because of those conversations. I never met a statistic that could do that.
6. Relationships Mean More than Numbers
So many people have reached out to partner with me in ministry over the last two years. From other bloggers, to magazine editors, to denominational officials, to hundreds of fellow Small Church pastors. Of all the things that have blessed my life over the short span of this ministry, none have meant more to me than meeting you, partnering in ministry and becoming friends.
If NewSmallChurch.com ended tomorrow, I know that many of the relationships we have built will go on.
That’s what ministry is all about, because that’s one of the foundations that the body of Christ is built on.
Thank you to everyone who has read, commented, argued & reached out to me through this blog in its first 2 years.
Now, on to year 3!
So what do you think? Have you ever experienced the downside of increasing numerical success?
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