Bad news.

You just got word that a mega- multi- church is metastasizing again, throwing up a campus down the street. They’ll probably open with 1500 or more their first Sunday.

Worried that some of them’ll be yours?

The message in your says, “Time to panic ‘cuz the big dog’s moving in.”

Better move over
Move over, Rover!

What do you do?

There are four steps, four helpful and healthy reactions to the news.

  1. A heart check
  2. A head check
  3. A hand check
  4. Look for another fishing hole

1. Heart check

This is the first thing you should do.

Ask yourself, “What is my gut reaction to this? What feelings and fears am I experiencing?”

Most pastors react adversely and many panic. “We’re going to lose people! Our income is going to drop!”

These are sure signs of a threatened ego and an ill-grounded self-image. It’s what you’d expect from a pastor who’s well being rests on how the church is doing. When things trend up, so does his mood. When there’s trouble, he sinks.

If you’re threatened when the big dog tells you to move over, you’re an addict. You’re hooked on a powerful drug – affirmation and praise – that will kill you. The best thing to do is get your self-image straightened out. Repent of your habit and get clean.

Come to grips with the fact that Jesus has you where he wants you. Your worth doesn’t depend on the church or on what you do. It’s intrinsic because of who you are – an image bearer redeemed at a great price. Jesus isn’t gonna love you any less because some of the folks that have patronized you for a while are attracted by the next great show. They’ll eventually leave that place as well.

This frees you for an honest head check.

2. Head check

Time to revisit your ecclesiology.

  • Who’s church is this anyhow?
  • Is it yours or His?
  • Did he bring you to this place?
  • Did he tell you to build the church?

If you answered “Yes” to that last one, you’ve got a problem.

He took that responsibility on himself.

There’s a whole lot to tease out in a head check. You’ve got to discard the unfounded assumptions in the attractional church model and the church growth movement. You need to (re)connect with the Missio Dei, the Church’s role and your job as a pastor.

Once you’ve got this sorted out recalibrate around the proper metrics. Fresh metrics alone will push you farther down the road toward genuine mission than almost anything else.

3. Hand check

After head and heart checks, look at what your hands are doing.

Do a ministry audit.

This may be the best opportunity you’ll have in a long time to move the church beyond change to transformation. It’s a golden opportunity to move from adequate to excellent and simplify things in the process.

Begin by breaking your ministries and programs into four categories.

  1. Which current ministries are essential functions to the life and health of the church?
  2. Which essential functions are being neglected or ignored?
  3. Which are add-ons that people enjoy but could live without?
  4. Which are inherited traditions that really need to be abandoned?

Get lean and mean. Cut out the dead wood (all those in category #4).

Pare  as many non-essential programs (all those in category #3) as you can without being shot.

Now look at items in categories #1 and #2. Which of these do you have the resources (the people, the skills, the passion) to really excel at? And how can you bring all that to bear on mission in your local community?

For example, if your Children’s ministry has been limping along with tired volunteers you’d better get that fixed. If you have to beg, borrow or steal the money (from another ministry) put some money into that ministry.

I’ll probably get some flak on this, but in mind a Youth Ministry falls in category #3. In this day and age of highly mobile teenagers it’s fairly common for kids to frequent a youth group at one church but go elsewhere on Sundays. You don’t build a loyal congregation on Youth Ministry.

But Children’s Ministry IMHO is mission critical. It builds loyalty that is accompanied by financial support from the congregation.

4. Find another fishing hole

Most mega- and multi- churches fish in one small part of the ocean. They chum the waters hoping to hook people who know they should to to church and would, if they found that pleased them. Although these behemoths often devote resources to local outreach, the main effort is governed by the metrics: bring them in.

When you think about it, they’re all fishing the same waters where only 20% of the fish school up.

The other 80% neither share that conviction (that they should attend) nor intention (attend a “good” church).1

So if your head is right, your heart is right and the gut check green lights your ministry then go look for another spot to fish. Instead of competing with the big dogs, launch out into genuine missional efforts. Focus your efforts in categories 1 and 2 so they’ll have impact on parts of the community being overlooked by the attractional/church growth model the megachurches and multi-site churches all follow.

The field will be wide open.

(This is a bit of a repetition from the “Hand Check” but I include it here for emphasis. It takes a while for pastors to switch from an attractional be-all-things ministry model to a genuine here’s-what-we-do-best missional model)

  • Put money into local mission.
  • Shut down programs that are primarily attractional in nature. (If that’ll get you shot try revamping them)
  • Rework your schedule to pare back maintenance activity and free up time to go fishing.
  • Model missional living by building up your list of non-Christian activities with unbelieving friends.
  • Celebrate how often someone invites you to join him for a beer rather than the number of tracts distributed.


1. Don’t confuse this with research stating that a majority report they would accept an invitation to attend. The attractional model relies on, well, attractional offerings.