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Building palpable momentum begins with a shared vision

It‘s not rocket science, but three things can fuel your church‘s energy level for transformation.

By Dotty Welch

There is a big difference between a well-run organization and one that is moving, with great energy, into the future. While efficiency is a necessary component in a church, it should always serve the greater good of effectiveness. Churches that are experiencing this kind of momentum are in the best position to live out the kind of transformation that the Gospel offers.

In the work that we do, we most often encounter churches that are in crisis. However, there was a church we worked with that really caught our attention. After working with them for a couple of days, my partner and I told them they didn’t need us. This was the first time that has ever happened.

The momentum was palpable. I think we may have helped them a bit, but I know that we learned from them far more than we offered. Long before we arrived they had done the hard work to arrive at clarity: They would focus their efforts and resources on their weekend services, their home group gatherings and their outreach to the surrounding community.

Evangelism and discipleship flourishing

This isn’t rocket science but what was amazing was that evangelism and discipleship were flourishing. This church was serving the under-resourced in such ways that they had a strongly favorable reputation in the area.

There were three unmistakable and consistent things they were doing that fueled this energy.

1. Align around a shared vision.
You already know this. If every leader that knew it did it, we’d be overwhelmed by momentum.

We work with church leaders all the time who know this — they learned it in seminary, read it in a book and heard it at the last leadership conference they attended. But searching high and low, there is no organizational evidence to lead you to believe they are actually aligning around a shared vision in any kind of consistent way.

More than a phrase is needed

Over and over again we encounter leaders who can recite a catchy vision phrase but when we sit down with them to review the activities on their daily calendar pages there is almost a complete disconnect.

Lip service will get leaders nowhere. You need to drive the leadership conversations in your team to arrive at the hard fought clarity that your church deserves. It’s tempting to think that in the name of the Gospel you can be everything to everyone. We can’t accomplish this, and although we know it we still keep trying.

A few years back we worked with a church whose leaders were enormously frustrated by how hard they worked and how little they saw in terms of transformation in their church. We spent some time looking at what they were doing. At the end of a couple of hours we listed out the evidence that they had nearly one ministry for every two people in their church.

Have a shared vision

Aligning a vision is very important, but equally as important is having a shared vision. Is it enough that the leader has the vision and everyone else follows it? Rarely, if at all is this method successful. A collaborative vision, one that is wrestled with and ultimately shared creates an enormous amount of energy in individuals and in organizations. Don’t short-circuit that process. Many people pushing a 1,200-pound boulder will make one person pushing that boulder, look like they are standing still.

2. Facilitate an effective decision-making process.

This doesn’t need to be a world-class process; it just needs to be really good. An effective process helps teams avoid the endless debate or the chronic avoidance that plague so many leadership groups. One group that we worked with recently suffered from giving the same level of urgency to every issue they discussed. What at first glance looked like great energy eventually revealed itself to be quicksand.

Meetings where decisions seldom get made, let alone executed against, always end up becoming discouraging and defeating experiences.

The church that has momentum from the start was genius at this. Being in their leadership team meetings was like being at a clinic for how to conduct communication. People entered the room with high energy, the discussions were deeply engaging, and the leader as well as other team members kept the conversations moving along.

Give and take

There was a certain flow to their meetings. They included a give and take of ideas and fostered excitement. They talked together about how to gauge what might be an appropriate amount of time necessary for this decision to get made. Some warranted minutes, others days, some longer. What was impressive was that part of their decision making process included this as a starting point. Sometimes they had to make adjustments in the timeline as they went along but they always started here.

They would research issues, engage in passionate debate but at the end of the day they made decisions. They might have to disagree and commit, but they made decisions and spoke with one voice when they left the meetings.

What was just as impressive was the leadership team’s ability to commit to a clear decision-making process, while at the same time taking very seriously their relationships to each other, the community they were creating as a team and their life of prayer together.

3. Tell stories about where the movement is happening.

Stories have a powerful way of creating and defining culture, and culture has a powerful way of creating momentum. With this team, they talked about how they found out that a couple of home group leaders were involving their groups in monthly serving at a nearby school in an impoverished area. The district had noticed their efforts and eventually a local paper picked up their story.

Response continues momentum

The response was pretty amazing: A couple of people who worked at the school began attending the church; other groups in the church, when they heard the story, began to look for and find areas to serve on a monthly basis.

And the spark was flamed in the leadership meeting when one team member told the story, the story prompted them to pray, the prayer prompted the pastor to tell the story in the message that weekend and the community responded in significant ways.

Of course, momentum is not something that is guaranteed just by our efforts, nor will we encounter it every day we show up for work. But given the nature of the Gospel, can we aim for anything less?

Nancy Ortberg is a partner at TeamworX2, Westlake Village and Menlo Park, CA. [TeamworX2.com]

10 ways to build momentum for impact

  1. Add staff and church leaders who are proven team players.
  2. Ensure that staff members share biblical worldviews and the same philosophy of ministry.
  3. Screen church leaders for continuity of philosophy of ministry.
  4. Provide an annual retreat for staff and church leaders to recast a vision that communicates well-defined missional goals.
  5. Communicate the church’s mission statement, continually unpacking what it means and what it looks like in strategy and results.
  6. Measure each ministry annually by using metrics that reflect effective results as defined by the missional objectives.
  7. If the church has multiple worship services, ensure they are led by a person who lives and breathes the missional values that permeate the church.
  8. Differentiate between a variety of choices in styles and methodologies, but have solidarity in mission outcomes and measurable results.
  9. Develop for paid and unpaid workers a procedural lifestyle that recognizes the diversity of spiritual gifts in the unity of the body.
  10. Deal with “Lone Rangers” or “independents” lovingly, affirmingly and swiftly.

— Kent Hunter, Church Doctor Ministries, Corunna, IN. [churchdoctor.org]

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