Every church gets a certain amount of opportunities to grow or make some sort of progress. They aren’t always the same as those of the church down the street. However, at least half of them will be. Like free throws in basketball, they are easy opportunities to make progress. Nevertheless, many churches fail to recognize them, and more still fail to take advantage of them.
What qualifies as a “free throw”? It can be seasons of the year during which people are more spiritually responsive and open to God and church: New Year, Easter, Back-to-School. Some churches don’t recognize them and others simply let them pass. It can be the constants of ministry: unified leadership, generosity, clear vision, staff that works well together. Some don’t recognize their importance or work diligently to cultivate them. There are other everyday free throws when God sends a new family through the doors of your church unexpectedly. Follow up, and you made your free throw. Don’t follow up, and you missed. Even better, we can prepare for the occasion by building a church that guests and believers love. Easier said than done? Perhaps, but not impossible. It just means a lot of free-throw practice.
The problem is that more churches prefer three-point shots to free throws. They get you more points for equivalent effort. The problem is, you’ll make less of them, and you won’t shoot as many of them. Great churches prevail the way great teams do. They don’t make the half-court shot or alley-oop their way to success. They make their free throws. In an average NBA game, a team that makes 80 percent of their free throws will win most of the time.
Don’t miss God-given opportunities to make progress. Take advantage of the seasons, your Sundays, the fundamentals of ministry, the times when the ball is in your hand and there is no one between you and the hoop. Spend less time figuring out how to come up with a break-through idea, and more time upping your free-throw percentage. It will help the church more. Then, you can work on the break-through ideas (three-point shots).
Some churches have great preachers but don’t grow. Others have great graphics, websites and bands, but they don’t grow. Other churches grow despite only adequate teaching, lackluster facilities, etc. They make their free throws. They don’t miss any low-hanging fruit. Don’t get me wrong – all of the aforementioned things matter to some extent. They just don’t matter as much as making free throws.
The NBA’s great three-point shooters are also great free-throw shooters. Guess which they learned to do first?
Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book “Jesus, the Powerful Servant.”