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Left behind

2 May, 2013 Richard Perkins

Left behind

What’s it like to be left behind after a church plant?

Loss.

That’s what it feels like.

When people leave to launch a new church plant, you know you’ve lost something. And what you’ve lost, if it’s not stating the obvious, is people. And given that they’re such a key component of church, that’s not an inconsequential loss.

Rosslyn and I were part of a morning congregation that lost forty people to a new church plant in a different part of town. And when they went, we missed them. These guys were some of our best friends, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ. We know we should have rejoiced that a new outpost of the Kingdom of God had been established. We should have been delighted that people in that neck of the woods now had access to a Gospel-shaped, Gospel-preaching church. But we were a little too self-absorbed for that. We couldn’t really see beyond what we’d lost. After all, when you lose people, there are obvious knock-on implications:

  • You lose people’s gifts which you’ve used to good effect, perhaps especially – though not exclusively – in church gatherings on a Sunday and midweek. People lead; they preach; they pray and sing; they administer rotas they serve on rotas. And when they leave, they’re not there any longer.
  • You lose people’s companionship, which you’ve enjoyed as you’ve grown together in fellowship. God uses people to disciple us to maturity in Christ; they encourage, support, rebuke and correct. And when they leave, someone else has to do that.
  • You lose people’s presence, which affects the feel of a meeting. Simply having fewer people around can make you feel a little more self-conscious. People tend to make less noise when you sing. And it can affect people’s confidence in the church as a going concern.
  • And you lose people’s resources, on which you’ve become dependent for the financial provision of the staff team and the necessities of running the administrative side of church. When people leave, they take their wallets with them!

We were acutely aware of the sacrifice involved in watching our mates leave. But what I didn’t appreciate at the time was that we were also gaining something very valuable. What I’ve subsequently realised is that, for those of us who were left behind, every single one of those losses presented an opportunity for us to grow. In God’s kindness, we did. And more quickly than we might have imagined.

We lost people’s gifts…
…but that meant that others had to step up to the plate and get involved. It meant that those of us who’d grown a little too accustomed to warming the pew had to get off the bench and start to contribute. That was good for us.

We lost people’s companionship…
…but that meant that we had to re-engage with one another across the whole church family. It meant that the close friendships, which all too frequently can appear to be exclusive cliques, were broken up. We had to love people unlike us. That was good for us.

We lost people’s presence…
…but that meant that we felt vulnerable once again. It meant that we were reminded to be dependent on the Lord and not simply on the numbers of people that were part of our church family. We prayed more. That was good for us.

We lost people’s resources…
…but that meant that the rest of us had to revisit our present levels of sacrificial generosity. There weren’t quite as many giving units as there used to be. And yet we still wanted to fund the same level of ministry provision. We were no less ambitious for Gospel ministry. But someone had to pay for it. That was good for us.

And so, although losing people was a loss, it wasn’t really. It was a win. Go figure! But you’d have thought that we’d have worked that one out beforehand. After all, it’s not the first time in the Kingdom of God that gain came through sacrifice.

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