Lack of Momentum
We all understand loss of momentum. It’s discouraging and hard to get it back. I had lost about six pounds prior to Thanksgiving. I was on a roll. The big "mo" was with me. I was ready to see pound number seven fall! I had visions of buying new pants! Then the Thanksgiving holidays hit. It wasn’t that I ate too much food that day, it was all the cookies and cake for days before and after! I’ve gained it all back and must start over again. Starting over is so much more daunting. You’ve run this road before, now you must do it again. This time, however, you must first get back to where you started before you really begin. It’s easy to see why people give up.
It’s also easy to see why churches give up. Rather than face the issue, it’s so much easier to gather for one more church event, pray a little, and hope something good happens next Sunday. But you and I know it doesn’t work that way. Just like it me and losing weight. I can just keep eating cookies and hope something good happens, or I can dig in and do what is required to regain momentum.
As church leaders we can’t force God’s hand to gain His favor, but we can do our part to be ready candidates for His favor. I believe God wants to pour out His blessing on His church. It’s not that God is withholding his favor, but He can’t pour His blessing into a vessel with holes in it. Please forgive the earthy metaphor. It breaks down if you pick at it, but it does paint a good picture that we can work with. There are things you can do to be prepared to capture all that God has intended for you.
Take responsibility for the lack of momentum.
If you are the pastor, on staff or a board member, own the reality of your church’s situation. Tell the truth. If you are in a decline, you are in a decline. Everyone knows it, so just say it. The people will appreciate your honesty and courage. If you are just barely holding your own, admit it, don’t cloud or cloak the issue by saying something like “We are in God’s divine holding pattern.” Don’t blame everything on the economy. The economy has hurt many churches, and may well have hurt your church, but you need to focus on the factors you can control.
Taking responsibility and owning the truth about the elephant in the sanctuary frees you up to take action. It sounds counter-intuitive, like a criminal admitting he’s guilty about doing something wrong. But you’re not a criminal and you aren’t guilty of anything except, like all of us, needing to lead at your very best. Step up and lead!
Find the "mo" in yourself first.
Walt Emerson said: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” That is so true. It’s what’s inside you, what you believe, the size of your faith, and the hope in you that matters. Not the mistakes in the past or the mountains in front of you. Only the dreams within you matter. If you lose hope, you can’t pass it on to the congregation. If you don’t believe, the people can’t believe.
Take some time to find your fire, your passion, the place you were when you were so excited you couldn’t stand it. If it’s tough for you right now and you’re discouraged, find a strong leader who’s a friend and talk to them. Get some wisdom and perspective. Ask them to pray for you. Don’t give up! It’s God’s church and He hasn’t given up on it or you!
Place action over analysis.
You can put your energy into discovering and listing reasons for the lack of momentum or take action to create momentum. Some study and analysis is needed and helpful, but not much. I’ve seen church leaders produce charts and graphs that look like a schematic for the most sophisticated computer on the market. I’ve looked at church documents with pages and pages of explanation of the problem, the reasons, and why it’s not working. The crazy thing was that there was nothing about what to do to turn things around! Do your homework and understand the basic problem(s), but put 80% of your effort and energy into creating new momentum.
Acknowledge your need for God and others.
This sounds easy but far too often church leaders don’t behave as if they are truly desperate and dependent upon God. I sometimes catch myself at this. When I’m incredibly busy, which is nearly always, I’m tempted to cheat my prayer time and waiting upon God. That’s so dumb, I mean really stupid. If I’m really desperate for God – His presence and His power, I must live that way. This is a personal note, but for me, God simply won’t be rushed. My time with Him is simply not an option.
You need people too. You’re good, but not that good. Don’t think you carry the world on your shoulders, you don’t (and you can’t anyway). Likewise you don’t carry the whole burden of the church on your shoulders either. If you do, the burden isn’t very big. Be open with your key leaders about your need and desire for genuine partnership.
Establish a clear vision.
Listen for God’s voice on His direction for your church. Talk and pray with your key leaders. Write the vision down. Soak on it. Make sure it’s simple and clear. A 4th grader should be able to understand it at a single reading. The vision should present a picture of the preferred future of your church. You should be able to feel motion and progress in the words. Don’t make it all about a building. A building may be involved, but the building is just a tool, not the vision. Changed-lives by the saving power of Jesus is the ultimate vision, but there are nearly limitless expressions of how any given local church arrives at that destiny. Yours is the joy to find your path to your destiny.
Make the tough choices.
I wish I could tell you that gaining or re-gaining momentum was easy. But you know it’s not. If it was easy, we’d all have it all the time. What I can tell you, in fact feel compelled to say, is that momentum never comes without two things: sacrifice and making tough choices. I will focus on difficult decisions.
Risk is always involved, that’s why the decision is difficult. The size of the risk varies, but it’s always present. If there is no risk involved, if failure is not clearly a possibility you will never realize momentum. Momentum is partially fueled by conquering the odds. The tough call may involve finances, location, staffing or any number of things, but its there. Remember, if you make a change and no one gets upset, you just changed something that doesn’t matter.
Keep talking! Cast the vision over and over again. Vision leaks. It’s true. You must say it until you are literally tired of saying it. Please don’t confine your vision-casting to the platform on the weekends. Some of your most powerful communication about the vision will be in small groups and in one to one meetings.
There is no magic potion for momentum. There are no guarantees. But there is always hope that your team grab will hold of what's truly a leader’s best friend.