You can create positive momentum in a stagnant church!
Five years ago, we were blessed to move to Shelbyville, Tennessee and take on the role of leading Gateway Church. Gateway was a 73 year-old church that had seen its better days. The attendance was around 60 people, the building was tired, and the past disappointments still lingered.*
I can remember asking myself, “What have I got myself into?” The people were amazing, but the struggles were real.
Over the last 5 years, we have been blessed to grow beyond 600, just breaking 1,000 for the first time at Easter, and relocate to the Wal-Mart we renovated next door.*
I can hear what you’re thinking, “Great, another story of a church somewhere else that went from three people to seven billion in three months.” I get where you are coming from, but our story isn’t as much about numeric growth as it is forward movement. Living things move!
There are many components that helped us create movement. But, for the purpose of this post, I will limit my insights to three.
1. Respect the Past
This one is tough for us cool millennials. I am sure you can tell I am a senior millennial. I was born in 1981 and I still use the word cool. However, I discovered there is incredible power in respecting the past of the church you lead.
One of the most frustrating mistakes I see leaders make is trying to frame the future by discrediting the past. Maybe someone is insecure and tries to tear down the previous pastor. Maybe we don’t like the songs the church used to sing, and we mock them regularly. This lack of honor feeds into societal pressures to see young as relevant and old as useless. It also isolates generations from each other.
One of the most frustrating mistakes I see leaders make is trying to frame the future by discrediting the past.
At Gateway we decided to treat our elders differently. We decided to do things on their shoulders instead of in their face. We let them know we are doing this inspired by you, not in spite of you. Their same passion to pioneer something for God is in us; we are a part of their DNA! They made us this way! So we honor them by moving forward!
Simple acts of honor created generational synergy and that synergy created movement
2. Redirect Resources
The interpretive dance team may be on the chopping block. Someone somewhere at some time decided that the way to create momentum among burned out and apathetic people was to create more work to do. Yeah, not a good idea!
The idea of simplifying church is not something I came up with on my own. Thom Rainer, Craig Groeschel, and others have been preaching this for years. However, one aspect I want to emphasize is not just the elimination of ministries but also the redirection of those resources.
Years ago I watched Star Trek on TV. (Yes, I just admitted to watching Star Trek!) In this episode the ship was damaged and they had to redirect their power to the engines. That’s exactly how you create movement! What are the “engines” in your church? Find the ministries and people in your church that are effective and invest in them.
What are the “engines” in your church? Find the ministries and people in your church that are effective and invest in them.
3. Rely on God’s Supernatural Power
I’m sure most of us consider ourselves professionals. We have trained, been educated and have a wealth of experience. We’re pros!
I’m also certain Peter felt like a pro standing in his fishing boat. He had the training and years of experience. Yet, we see Jesus telling him how to fish after he spent all night catching nothing. The professional still needed the guidance of His God. SO. DO. WE.
In the midst of all your conferences, blogs, and leadership books, make sure you stay sensitive to God’s guidance. Dream dreams that are so large that you can’t do them without God’s supernatural power.
Dream dreams that are so large that you can’t do them without God’s supernatural power.
An unintentional consequence of our mountains of leadership resources is a trap to think we have it figured out. We have naturalized a supernatural endeavor.
At Gateway, we have learned to live in the zone of dependency. Dependency on God’s power in all that we do. The exciting part is that He has never let us down, and His power generates significant movement.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I pray it helps you in your journey of leadership. Don’t feel pressure to triple your church in three weeks. Don’t create unhealthy and unrealistic goals that are fueled by your own insecurity. Focus on creating movement and just watch what God can do with you.
*Statistics gathered when this blog post was originally published in 2017