Almost 25 years ago Amy and I moved to Rocklin, California, to start a church from scratch. We had no staff, no buildings, no land, no core group, and very little money. Yet I had big dreams—not of a big church, physically, but of a church that that had a big heart for loving people one at a time and for teaching the Word of God thoroughly.
Yet with few people and funds, how was I to start a church? During that time, there were three methods commonly used by start-up churches. The first way was to survey neighborhoods door-to-door. Famous churches had used this method (including Saddleback) so tons of new church leaders and members hit the streets across our nation. For me, however, there was a problem: I don’t like it when solicitors come to my door uninvited. As I mulled this over in my head, I thought of Jesus’ Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). So I crossed that method off my list.
The second method was telemarketing, a very popular method in the early 1990s. Church leaders and volunteers would phone tens of thousands of homes in the target region, hoping that one tenth of one percent would attend the first service. So, if workers made 20,000 phone calls, they hoped for 200 visitors on their launch Sunday. Plus, only half or one quarter of those usually visit a second time. Not good odds. For me, though, once again the Golden Rule provided direction: I hated when telemarketers called my home phone, so how could I do that to others? Option two also hit the dust.
The third method was to send out mailers to local residents—sometimes in the hundreds of thousands range. That was easy to cross off my list, since we had no money and it too didn’t pass the Golden Rule for me personally.
So what was I to do? I remember asking God in prayer, “Lord, what do you want me to do? How would you start a church, Jesus, if you were in my shoes?”
I distinctly remember feeling an urge (not a voice) that seemed to be from God, since it wasn’t anything I had thought of or heard of before. I felt God saying, “Don’t worry about starting a church—instead be the church. Find a need and fill it. Be a church that gives things away rather than asks for things.”
So I picked one need—keeping kid’s off drugs—and wrote a little booklet called “How to Drug-Proof Your Kids.” I bought a card table at Home Depot and made two signs. One said, “How to Drug-Proof your Kids—Free Booklets.” The second read, “Sponsored by Adventure Christian Church—No Donations Accepted.”
Then I got permission to sit at my table in front of local stores and give away booklets. I thought I would be known as the pastor of a small, new church town who sits behind those funky tables at WalMart. And that’s what happened.
But then God did a miracle. Our small church grew rapidly, and in ten years grew to 5000 people worshipping on 40 acres of land and beautiful ministry centers including a 3000 seat worship center. Hundreds and hundreds of people came to Christ every year.
How can I explain it? Twenty years later, I was reading in the gospels of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, in which Jesus took the two fish and five loaves, offered by an unnamed boy, and multiplied them to feed over 5000 people. The boy offered what little he could, and Jesus did the rest. It hit me that, in like manner, Jesus took my little card table and multiplied it into a church body and facility that served loving, nourishing meals in the Word to thousands each week.
In short, I was that little boy.
In fact, I still am that little boy. As God opens up new ministry opportunities for me in the future, I realize that I still have very little to offer apart from God. Yet I know God can take our little and do miracles, so I move ahead with faith and confidence.
Rick Stedman, April 8, 2017