By my approximation, I’ve led worship at my church somewhere around 500 times in the last 10 years. It’s not complicated math. There are at least 52 Sundays per year (although in some instances there can be 53), and barring a few cancellations for weather or the random “spend Sunday with your family” thing, we’ve been on Centre Circle for each of those. And for a vast majority of those years, I was the sole worship leader, which meant that barring major sickness–and even through such things in many cases–I was there on Sunday. During my time as a student at Ashland University, there were two Sundays a summer where I was gone, and there were other events, like the morning after my wedding and during my honeymoon, that kept me away, along with some visits from friends who offered me reprieves from time to time, but mostly, I was there. To me, it has been an honor and a privilege to be there each of those weeks, and while I appreciated the weeks away, there was always a tinge of something missing when I was gone. In all honesty, the number probably comes to something less than 500, but it’s close, and I’m proud to have been a part of each of those, through all the highs and lows that have come throughout the last 10 years.
This is beginning to sound like I’m working up to an announcement, so let me stop the train before it hits the station: I’m not going anywhere, and barring any unexpected occurrences, I fully expect to be part of TheGathering for as long as the church continues to exist. But this Sunday we are celebrating our 10th Anniversary (although Facebook tells me that tomorrow is the actual day we launched 10 years ago), and I thought it was a good opportunity to take time to reflect on those years.
In some ways I have no idea how to really do that. I don’t remember much about that first Sunday, and photos of the day and our first years look foreign to me. The space itself looks different, all the people have gotten older or moved on to something else, and it’s crazy to me to think how little of our launch team remains 10+ years later. We’ve gone through lots of musicians over that time–although my good friend and multitalented instrumentalist David has been with me for about 9 out of the 10–and this has impacted our abilities to be flexible or multifaceted in our musical choices at various points in our history, often making it difficult to provide our ever-faithful group of players chances to just attend the gathering without having something to do. I can’t really express how vital their faithfulness has been to making my life a little bit easier, even though I often feel guilty for using them up as much as I can. I’ll miss someone if I start naming names, outside of our current crew of Lisa, Tony, Dale and Aaron, but I am thankful for all of you, no matter how long you were part of our little band.
TheGathering has never been a large church, and I’ll admit that sometimes that’s been hard to look around and see all these churches around us growing at astronomical rates, being financially stable and beyond and really appealing to large swaths of people. Sometimes I wonder why God chose them and not us; sometimes I’ve blamed myself, as if there is something inefficient in me that has somehow reflected negatively on the church as a whole. Then I look back and I see how far we’ve come. Most church plants flame out within the first couple of years, but for some reason God has seen fit to keep providing for us and enabling us to stay around. It’s not because we’re reaching masses or because we have eight locations meeting twenty-five times on Sunday morning, but I choose to believe it’s because we’re still doing good and faithful work for those who we have reached and impacted. People go to large churches, in part, because it’s easier to disappear there, but also because they tend to have resources to do more outside ministries or because those types of churches appeal to them for myriad other reasons–I’m not here to cast any judgement on anyone for that choice. But I can say that God must be enabling us to do something right, otherwise He would have removed us from the landscape long ago.
I have no idea what’s next for TheGathering Fort Mill. The church we planted out of has been gone for several years now, and while we maintain a small but faithful core group, we’ve not seen major growth in many years. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but it is to realize that I don’t know. My prayer is that we’ve done what we’re meant to do, and that if we’re looking back 10 years from now on 20 years as a church we can see what God has done to guide us there; or if we’re looking back on a church that ran its course, we’ll know that we’ve run it well. In the end, I think that’s all we can judge our church on.
Join us for our 10th Anniversary service on Sunday February 3 at 3545 Centre Circle, Suite B in Fort Mill. We’d be happy to have you.