Fads come and go. Hair bands, slap bracelets, Atkins diets, and fanny packs all came and went. Some fads quickly go out of style. Some linger too long. (Why are some of you still wearing skinny jeans?)
If music, food, clothes and toys can become faddish, then the same can happen to leaders.
In the church, what works to grow a church today may not work in the future. You can be a popular leader, only to lose that popularity more quickly than Vanilla Ice dropped out of the mainstream.
Even entire movements can lose steam. Church growth was hot a few decades ago. Three points and a poem was once normative in preaching. And remember when every church was building a gym?
Let me be clear: Many fads are good. Some are just fun. There is nothing inherently wrong with something (or someone) having a season of popularity. If you’re a leader in the church, though, you should focus on building a congregation that endures.
Building a legacy and capturing the energy of the moment are not mutually exclusive. You can — and should — do both. Quite frankly, it’s easier to grow a church with fads than it is to create an enduring church body. And you as a leader can be a fad as well — popular for a catch phrase, sermon style or specific innovation, all of which can quickly fall out of favor. So, how can leaders not fall into the trap of leadership fads?
Listen to older generations. They are less susceptible to fads. Many of them know exactly what it takes to endure. You should expect the oldest generation in your church to push back on the latest trend. It’s not that they are paladins of tradition. It’s just that, generally, they have little need to accept the latest and greatest. They’ve been there, done that, and have the hypercolor t-shirt.
Listening to them accomplishes two purposes. First, it will help you be more selective and strategic with what fads to adopt. If a lot of older people in your church are adopting a fad, then there might be value in it. Second, it gives you the opportunity to show you care about them, so that when you chase a trend, they know you’re not trying to chase them out. No church will endure without all generations working together.
Be selective and strategic with fads. Not every fad is worth it. You can end up looking silly as a leader. Know every trend has a shelf life. Or you might just create a situation where your church is stuck in 2015 when it’s actually 2030.
Keep a few traditions. In order to capture the moment and build a legacy, you must have a few things in the church that point to what endures. Traditions are a good way to show (over and over) what should endure in the church. Use traditions to build a legacy. Use fads and trends to create energy.
By definition, no fad lasts. So you cannot build a church that endures by chasing every fad. On the other hand, by not capturing the energy of the moment, you lose steam, start slowing, and ultimately die. No church can thrive on traditions alone. Now go through your closet and toss all those skinny jeans, or the fanny pack. Neither will endure.
Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog,samrainer.wordpress.com.