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How We Could Be Bigger

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, March 24, 2014

How We Could Be Bigger

Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), where I have the privilege of serving as senior pastor, has a clear ten-year vision we call our “20/20 Vision”:  to be a church of 20,000 active attenders with ministry in 20 countries by the year 2020.

It’s an audacious goal.  We call it, borrowing from Jim Collins, a BHAG – a “big, hairy, audacious goal.”

It was first announced in 2010, and now, just about four years later, we are ahead of schedule with nearly 10,000 active attenders and ministry in 16 countries with over seventy percent of our growth coming from the previously unchurched.

We started off in 2010 with half that many active attenders and ministry in only five countries outside of the U.S.  The vision propelled us toward a capital campaign to raise money to build (again) on our original campus and launch two new sites (a third is coming this fall) in other parts of the city.

It also led us to initiate what we call “Missions 2.0”, which is an aggressive approach to developing partnerships and sending serving teams locally and around the world to those in need.  It’s resulted in such things as building homes for those rescued from sex-trafficking in the Philippines, supporting orphanages in Argentina, and sponsoring children through local churches in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Haiti.

In other words, a clear vision – if it is going to mean anything – will necessarily translate into action.  You will do whatever it takes to make the vision a reality.

Well, almost anything.

There are certain things we could have done that would have made us much larger than we are; things that would have exponentially accelerated our growth. 

And I am so glad that we didn’t do any of them.

For example,

I am so glad that we did not fall into mere rhetoric about reaching the unchurched while, in reality, catered to transfer growth.

I am so glad that we never valued talent or “look” over character in regard to who we platformed or allowed to lead.

I am so glad we took membership seriously, as well as baptism, so that it was never just about adding notches to our belt, but entailed actual vetting.

I am so glad that no one on staff, least of all me, sacrificed their family for the sake of the church.

I am so glad that we didn’t gloss over or simply ignore the most pressing, controversial issues facing the interplay of Christ and culture.

I am so glad that we didn’t present a “lite” gospel that reduced Jesus to a personal life coach and made the radical, sacrificial message of the gospel all about personal peace and affluence.

If we had embraced one or more of these, we would be much, much larger than we are now.  Our choices have, without a doubt, cost us growth.  Which means that while we are ahead of schedule in terms of our 20/20 Vision, we may not achieve the hoped-for result.

Because there are other things that, I hope, we will not do.

And that’s fine by me.

Because not only do the means seldom justify the end, the means – in so many ways – are the end.  At least for a follower of Christ.  For us, how we reach our goals matter as much as the goals themselves.  Because the “how” is about the way we live our lives.

So for us, the vision isn’t simply about 20,000 active attenders or ministry in 20 countries.  It’s more than that. 

It’s about who we are as we strive toward achieving it.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available for pre-order.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

How We Could Be Bigger