You’ve heard it said, “We overestimate what can get done in one year and underestimate what’s possible in five.” We celebrated New Song’s 20th Anniversary last month, and when we tabulated all that had happened, I was shocked. I now know it really is possible to change the world. In fact, I think I’ve had a front-row seat in watching it happen:
• We’ve planted 163,000 churches worldwide, leading over 7,000,000 to Christ.
• We’ve helped 90,000 American churches to reach their communities for Christ.
• We’ve helped 2,400 churches in 17 countries with database management systems.
• Over the last twenty years, we’ve seen 12,923 people pray to receive Christ here.
• Over the last seven years, we’ve seen gang violence in our city decrease by 35%.
• Over the last four years, we’ve fed, clothed and educated 85 children in Africa, and 100 in Honduras.
• Over the last three years, we’ve helped prevent a suicide a day.
A friend asked me how this all happened. My initial answer was, “God did it. He’s done exceedingly, abundantly above all we could ask or imagine.” That was too spiritual an answer for him, so this is my attempt to “quantify a miracle,” if that’s even possible.
So, here are three ways your church can change the world:
1. Thinking entrepreneurially.
A church planter’s resources are always limited, and always limitless. We’ve never had the money necessary to do world-changing ministry. But the task is so urgent, we can’t afford to let money hold us back. So we look for ways to start and sustain ministries like a new business-owner would look to start and sustain his or her business.
Seventeen years ago we set the goal of impacting the planting of 1,000 churches. Few churches could do that alone, so Paul Becker raised support, started a mission and began partnering with every orthodox Christian group on the planet. Today he has over 10,000 leaders training church planters in 86 countries of the world. (Our goal now is five million churches—so if you’re reading this, we want to partner with you!)
Fifteen years ago we discovered that mailing postcard invitations was effective in reaching our neighbors. So Scott Evans started offering to help other churches do the same. To date, the organization he started has helped 90,000 local churches with a half a billion mailers.
Ten years ago we couldn’t afford to purchase a database to keep New Song’s records. So Chris Fowler and Free Grafton built a database from scratch. They started offering it to other churches. So far, 2,400 of them have benefitted.
Seven years ago, Roy Vallez got a heart to reach gang members. He started hanging out with them, playing football and feeding them pizza. He’s earned their trust, leading them to Christ, placing them in educational programs, and bringing others in the city together. As a result, gang violence has decreased.
Five years ago, San Diego was hit with major fires. The relief center near us was overwhelmed, so we offered to house evacuees in our building. We had no food to feed them, no beds to sleep them, and no money to pay for all the repairs we’d need to make once the disaster was over. We called on 125 local churches and businesses and for help. At the end of the week, we had fed and clothed 790 evacuees, led 94 of them to Christ, and our congressman wrote us a personal check to cover the repairs to our building.
Right now, we’re trying to figure out how to put a New Song location in all sixteen quadrants of our city. We don’t know how yet, but we believe it must be done. So we’re thinking entrepreneurially again.
2. Setting leaders free.
Four years ago, our executive pastor and our next generation pastor came to me with the idea of creating a movie to reach teens. The theme was teen suicide, and the goal was to stop it. God had clearly put this idea in their hearts. Who was I to withhold the church’s support? So in 2010, we produced To Save A Life. So far, the movie has saved hundreds of teens in dozens of countries.
Paul Becker was one of our Board Members. Now he’s the President of Dynamic Church Planting International. Scott Evans was our Associate Pastor. Now he’s CEO of Outreach, Inc. Free Grafton was our Music Pastor. He now owns Church Community Builders Online. If you don’t think losing those guys was painful, trying giving birth without an epidural! But how dare we hold on, when the Great Commission is so great? I’ve actually come to believe that part of my ministry is supporting and blowing on others’ kingdom visions. I’m cheering on five new kingdom-initiatives developing in our church right now.
3. Staying long term.
Some pastors are catalytic. They like to start things and move on. I’ve learned that if I can start new things or help others start new things, I can be catalytic and stay. For most pastors, staying is better. Trust is built over time. Understanding a city takes time. Lessons are learned over time. Most pastors hit their stride around year ten and become city-statesmen around year twenty.
Lori and I once visited Ireland. One of its downtown churches has been around almost since the days of St. Patrick. It’s full of monuments and tombs. One of the church’s walls had plaques and dates of their pastors going back several hundred years. As I read down the wall, I came across a pastor who had come to the church at age 44 and left at age 86. (I assume his reason for leaving was death, but the plaque didn’t say.) This guy had led his church for 42 years!
Whenever I think of quitting or moving on, I think of that guy. Four decades. Half his life. I hope to interview him in heaven one day. I’ll bet he can tell a story or two about changing the world.