By Don Ballard
God works through pastors in ways we cannot see, including using us to pastor congregations we have never been called to or paid by.
Pastors don’t shepherd just one group of people—they lead several congregations at once, even though they may not realize it.
Some of these “hidden” congregations haven’t even entered our sanctuaries or family life centers yet—but hopefully they are on their way.
The “future is near” congregation is made up of the kids and teens who are watching.
They are listening to what you say about their parents’ congregation before deciding what their long-term investment will be.
Your ministry is not to entertain them but to disciple them.
Either you understand a little about them and speak some of their language or you don’t get anything about them and may not care to.
If that’s the case, however, you may miss your moment—and it will only come around once.
The “yet to arrive” congregations are those who aren’t at your church yet.
Your ministry will either encourage and assimilate them into church or discourage and disconnect them from any further investigation of you or any church.
They may be unchurched, dechurched, or confused by church. In any of those conditions, they may not be easy to pastor, so you’d better put thought into how you will serve them.
The “Christmas and Easter” congregation contains those who have a limit of two or three Sundays a year.
Don’t obsess with winning them as regulars. Instead, communicate God’s truth as clearly as possible during the few Sundays they engage the church.
Don’t use them simply to pad attendance or giving on the holiest of days. Preach the gospel to them, straight and simple. God will do the rest.
The “neighborhood” congregation is those who use your buildings for Boy Scout meetings and your parking lot to ride their bikes.
You may not know them, and they may not know you. However, they are a part of a congregation you serve because God put you in their neighborhood. What are you doing about it?
We could name many more congregations that need our best efforts. If we have crossed paths with people, it is because God has something in mind for that relationship or encounter.
We can’t assume what is on the surface is all there is. We must look more deeply, and we must use our imaginations to consider all of the congregations our words fall upon when we live the gospel.
Paul’s words in the introduction of Romans serve as somewhat of a proof text for me as he addresses “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (1:7). This includes everybody.
Paul doesn’t see just one group; he sees many. He doesn’t just speak the language that matters to some; he is multilingual in his writing.
He isn’t considering only the hearers who will lay hands on his letter. Instead, he is sharing a message gracious enough for all eyes and ears in eternity to find transforming. And so should we.
There are hidden congregations within and around your congregation. Don’t forget about them. Don’t ignore them. Don’t placate them. Pastor them.
Share a meal with them. Cry with them in the hospital and laugh with them on the golf course. Call them by name in Starbucks. Wave to them at the four-way stop.
Listen to them. Love them. Be patient with their progress. Be forgiving of them when they disappoint you or even betray you. They are your congregation, whether you see it or not.
DON BALLARD (@GDonBallard) is the lead pastor at Newark Church of the Nazarene in Newark, Ohio, a multisite church with an additional online ministry. You can read more from Don at his site: Preaching to Me.