One of the best parts of doing a Home Missions Assignment is connecting and reconnecting with friends who were part of ministries you’ve been involved with over the years. We have been blown away and humbled as we’ve heard stories of how the early years at the Vineyard in Ithaca impacted lives.

But here’s what I’ve been wrestling with…

Those first 5 years or so are the closest thing to what I’d like to see recreated in Dublin. There were so many things during those early years that I loved about that church…yet at the same time, there was no period of time where I more frequently wanted to quit.

That doesn’t make sense to me.

This morning the penny dropped. The big disconnect for me was that I had expectations that didn’t mesh with what we were doing as a church.

There was a systems quote that got bandied about a lot by church planting types back when we were planting:

The systems you have in place are perfectly designed to give you the results you are currently seeing.

And there was the problem. 

All the coaching we were getting was that success was a big church. The bigger the crowd, the more successful the church (and the church planter).

But we weren’t having rapid growth. We had grown over the first few years but definitely not rapid.

What we did have was community. We ate together regularly. We hung out together. We did outreach together. People’s lives were being impacted. It was basically doing ministry with friends. 

But the church planting gurus and coaches we had weren’t telling us to look at that stuff…we were to count “butts in chairs” and “bucks in the offering.” 

So I was constantly discontent. We weren’t successful…and I wasn’t successful.

  • When we had 50 people, I wanted 100. 
  • When we had 100, I wanted 200.
  • When we got to 200…you already know.

At about 4 years into our church plant, we gave up eating together on Sunday…because we needed space so that we could grow…the trade-off was that we didn’t have the time to have lunch together anymore. I told myself we’ll get back to it in the next place. We never did.

And over the next few years, we shifted what we did more and more to give us systems that would help us grow. Because growth became the goal. And we grew!

But there wasn’t a lot of discipleship. (We said discipleship happened in small groups, but it really doesn’t.) There wasn’t a lot of eating together. And while we still got to do ministry with friends, there was an ever increasing percentage of the church that we were disconnected from…and more and more people were disconnected.

Before we could start missional communities and neighbourhood based churches in Dublin, I needed to have that “butts & bucks” thinking rooted out of my head…and there is still work to do I’m sure. 

If I could go back now and coach myself 16 years ago and coach my younger self we would have used very different metrics…and I could have enjoyed something that was really special.

(the photo is from early on in the life of the Ithaca Vineyard when we were meeting at the Youth Bureau.)