The race is about to begin! You are waiting at the starting line for the starter’s horn to sound and the sailing race to commence! The timer’s clock shows there is still twenty minutes to go before the race horn sounds. It’s going to be a while, that much you know as you look around, because most of the boats are still at a dead stop. But with less than ten minutes to go before the start there is a new wave of activity around you as you see a new wave of activity begin. The race boats participants display well-rehearsed activity and the sails fill with air as they begin to move towards the starting line. Some start fast and others start out ever so slowly. It seems to take the larger boats so long to get going!
When younger I raced sailboats of all sizes. It was so easy to get a 14 foot Hobbie Cat moving as compared to the 69 foot Morgan Out-Islander deep hull. But once that larger sailboat began to move the wind within its sails had no problem maintaining hull sped and plowing through the water with great efficiency!
It’s the principle of inertia at work: things at rest tend to want to stay at rest and things in motion tend to want to stay in motion.
That is also true in church revitalization efforts:
Sometimes the greatest risk is in doing nothing.
The inertia that a moving object builds up is called momentum. It takes lots of energy to build up momentum but it takes far less energy to maintain it. Momentum is more than a principle of physics. It is a principle we can apply to our personal lives and to the life of a renewing church as well. Momentum in church revitalization efforts will out distance negative skunking every time.
Have you met any Church Skunkers in your church revitalization efforts? Church skunking is the ploy that happens frequently within local church renewal efforts, when pessimistic church members spray negativity all over those creative church members who are trying to spark the renewal efforts of the church. A well-known example would be the tried but true expression by skunkers “We tried that years ago and it did not work.”
When you have the power of momentum the skunkers will try hard to slow things down but keeping the energy moving forward is vital to a churches renewal efforts.
Let’s look at the importance of momentum in a churches revitalization strategy:
The Muscle of Momentum
First an illustration: Two teams have a game together. The team the experts consider to be the underdog has previously played teams not as good as they are, so they’ve won all of their games; they’re undefeated. The better team has played teams ranked as better than themselves, so they’ve lost all their games. Who’s going to win? No one can know for certain, but a betting person would be smart to put money on the underdog team that’s undefeated. Momentum can be a big advantage!
John Maxwell, a nationally-known (church) leadership expert, has written a book called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. (Thomas Nelson Publisher, Nashville, Tenn. © 1998, Maxwell Motivation, Inc.) One of the 21 laws is the law of momentum. Maxwell argues that a leader must create and sustain momentum among those he leads if he is to succeed. Someone has well said:
A minister doesn’t become truly effective as a leader until after seven years at a church.
Even revitalizing churches can experience a lack of momentum when there are few things to measure relative to growth, either spiritually or numerically during the initial renewal stage. The church has been on a plateau for a portion of time and deciding to begin an effort to revitalize the church is often more of a wish than a desire to make the necessary decisions that will bring about renewed vision. This inertia of going nowhere does not last long, however. Negative momentum (going backward faster and faster) begins if an aggressive drive for life is not pursued.
Jesus Told a Story about Momentum
Momentum played a role in one of the stories Jesus told. The story is about a wealthy man who had to be away on business for an extended period of time. He called together his three associates and gave them his wealth to invest while he was gone. One was given five talents, another was given two, and the third was given one talent to oversee.
A talent was about what an ordinary worker could earn in 20 years. For comparison, let’s use $30,000 for a worker’s annual salary today. That is easy math for us to work with. That means one worker was given $3 million, another $1.2 million, and the third $600,000.
After a long period of time the wealthy man returned and found that the first associate had invested the $3 million and doubled it to $6 million. The second associate had invested his as well, and also doubled it—to $2.4 million. The third, however, had simply hid his $600,000 in a mattress, a tin can in the backyard, or some place like that, and had the same $600,000 to give back to his boss.
The boss was very pleased with the first two men for doubling his money, but he was angry with the third man. He took the $600,000 he had given to that man and gave it to the one with $6 million. Jesus wants His followers to see the importance of using whatever God gives us in life. We’re to invest wisely what He’s given us in opportunities, finances, abilities, and time. Jesus indicates that when we attempt to do something with what we’ve been given, we’re going to end up with more, and this increase will increase even more. In Jesus’ story, the man who had acquired the ten talents was given an eleventh (the one taken from the man who did nothing) presumably to continue to multiply his boss’s wealth.
Jesus summarized the story by saying, “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 25:29). That’s the principle of momentum at work. The one who works and takes risks to multiply what he has been given by God has even more, and the one who doesn’t do anything to gain more will lose what he has. Sometimes the greatest risk is in doing nothing.
Some things that Cause Us to Lose Momentum
There are many things that cause us to lose our momentum in Church Revitalization.
- Discouragement can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Revitalization
- Failure can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Revitalization
- A lack of focus can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Revitalization
- Ungratefulness can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Revitalization
- Inattention can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Revitalization
These are all part of the factors that can cause resistance to our forward momentum in church revitalization!
Positive experiences and memories of the past can either hamper or build momentum in Church Revitalization.
I heard about one couple who ran out of gas while traveling. It happened at an exit ramp, at the top of which was a gas station. The husband figured he could push the car up the ramp to the station, so he told his wife to get behind the steering wheel. He leaned into the back bumper with his shoulder, and pushed and pushed. It was really hard work, but eventually he pushed the car up to the pump at the gas station.
“Wow! That hill was steeper than I thought,” he breathlessly told his wife.
“I know,” she replied. “It was so steep I thought we might roll backward and I’d run you over, so I kept the brakes on.”
You can add fear to the list of things that keep us from building momentum in Church Revitalization!
Intentional Steps toward Building Momentum in Church Revitalization
There are several steps we can take to build momentum in revitalization:
Understand it takes time and persistence to grow a new church!
Jesus said God’s kingdom grows in influence like yeast does in bread dough. Who wants to sit and watch bread rise? Get a life! Bread rises really slowly, but it does happen! Reversing negative momentum, or getting positive momentum going from a dead stop, takes time and persistence.
I have observed as a pastor how an individual losing a mate is a life-wrenching event. The first year is often one in which the widow or widower makes little progress at rebuilding a life. Some remain immobilized for the remainder of their lives. There are those, however, who begin to join life again by little steps: starting back to church, visiting a friend in the hospital, or joining in the celebrations of the holidays and special family events once again.
Revitalizing churches gain momentum slowly as well. A churches small group ministry, missions, lay leadership development, and other key areas of church life also seemed to take a long time before there is significant growth. Research has shown that a minister does not become truly effective as a leader until after seven years at any particular church. Revitalizing churches are not well served when there is a change of pastoral leadership every three or four years. Momentum in a church revitalization effort takes time to build.
Just do something—almost anything.
Doing nothing will not change anything; in fact, it usually makes things worse. In Jesus’ story of the three men given the talents, the criticism of the man with one talent was that he did nothing. We can begin by just doing a little something, being obedient to God in little ways. After all, most of life’s greatest achievements are made up of small things.
Building positive momentum in a revitalizing church involves identifying small and manageable goals that, with prayer and some effort, can be achieved. It requires moving beyond the momentum-killing idea that “We’ve never done it that way before.”
Build on Your Successes
Focus on your latest forward progress. Many of the Psalms were written by people in trouble who reviewed in their psalms the ways God had helped them in the past. This gave them the confidence to move forward and seize the future, and their psalms usually end on that confident note. One word of warning! Even those positive experiences and memories can either hamper or build momentum. A nostalgic wishing list can hurt even a church in the midst of successful renewal! Do not get buried in such but remember, God is the giver of good gifts.
Work on the serendipitous breakthroughs for Church Revitalization
Albert Einstein realized what more revitalization leaders need to discern: that a major breakthrough can launch a church from good to great, so great church revitalizers always press for that breakthrough.
Revitalization breakthroughs occur when we continually:
1. Meet the needs of the community (which allows us to stay in the playing field);
2. Improve ourselves and our church revitalization assistance team; and
3. Succeed. It's a fact that there is no success like success.
Pushing for a revitalization breakthrough generates what John Maxwell describes as a leader's best friend - momentum. Momentum makes your work or your mission easier to accomplish than anything else.
He often tells national leaders that:
Momentum is worth three staff members. In fact, if some leaders would get rid of the right three staff members, they might instantly get some momentum.
When you have no momentum, things look worse than they really are. And when you have momentum, it makes things look better than they ever seemed to be. So you've got to push for the breakthrough in church revitalization. A revitalization effort must move from build-up to breakthrough, from good to great. Good is build-up; great is breakthrough.
But there is a temptation that comes with a breakthrough in church revitalization and the momentum that comes with it. The temptation is to ease up and celebrate the initial victory. You just kind of want to sit back and say, "Wow! Aren't we good?" It just feels good to know you have achieved something even a little something. And while it is OK to celebrate, we have to remember that the next play just might get us beat. Once you have that ball rolling, the compounding effect is so huge you don't ever want that ball to stop.
What do you do when the momentum stalls?
The time to ease up is when things have slowed down. When you do not have momentum and when you do not have a breakthrough. When the church revitalization train already has stopped - get off and take a rest. You were not going anywhere anyway!
When it gets moving again what do you do?
But once the train gets going again, don't get off. When you have got momentum and the breakthrough, it is dangerous to jump off. You could hurt yourself. You could hurt your church revitalization efforts.
So if you want to go from good efforts in church revitalization to great achievements in Church Revitalization, keep pushing toward a breakthrough. And when the church renewal momentum arrives, either because you are near the goal or because you have broken through, do not ease up. That is when you push the pedal to the metal.