What is momentum and why does every church leader want it?

When I was in the 4th grade I had the coolest silver Sting-Ray bike. I just went on-line and looked up vintage 60’s Sting-Ray’s. The first one I saw was $500.00! The high rise handlebars, banana seat, and chrome spokes — a blast from the past!

We had moved up the coast from San Diego to Cardiff-by-the-Sea. We lived a little over two miles from the beach. Birmingham was the main road to get there and it was a very long and steep hill. Riding my bike downhill to the beach was a breeze, pushing it most of the way home was rough. The trip was the same length in both directions, but going home was so much more difficult and took five times longer.

This is a great picture of momentum in church leadership.  The same journey is so much different with momentum than without it. We all love the downhill ride, but it doesn’t come without a price tag and it doesn’t last forever.

Momentum is a leader’s best friend.  Next to God’s favor, there is nothing a leader wants more than momentum. (And the two are connected.) Momentum is that often illusive quality that makes all the difference in the local church. Good momentum is that force greater than the sum of all your leadership and resources, that can’t be explained, but drives you forward in the mission and vision of the church at a miraculous rate.

12Stone Church, where I serve as Executive Pastor in Lawrenceville, GA, has been blessed with amazing momentum. We’ve grown from about 4,000 to well over 8,000 in weekly worship in a couple years. We can’t explain it really, which is a bit ironic if you think about it since I’m writing two articles on momentum! We do know that God is with us and His favor is strong. We don’t take that lightly. With that acknowledged, there are some things that can be said on the topic of momentum:

Momentum never lasts forever.

The natural response to things finally going your way is to let off the gas and coast a little. When you experience momentum, it’s not time to coast. It’s time to pedal harder. Take full advantage of the favor God is granting. God delivers the favor but you fan the flame!

Nothing organic continues to grow forever.  No revival has ever lasted forever, no church has ever kept growing without end, and no movement has continued to contradict the laws of nature. Nothing live keeps growing. Think about a tree, you’ve never seen one over 400 ft in height. I believe the tallest recorded is a redwood in Northern California measured at 379.1 feet.

God continues growth by planting new seeds. As leaders we must figure out ways to plant new seeds. This includes anything from starting a new service to planting a new church. The idea is something new. At 12tone Church we “plant” new video driven campuses. You can be creative and come up with your ideas but the point is to do it before your church hits its peak height.

Momentum can fool you.

A good friend of mine, Tim Elmore, Founder and President of Growing Leaders (a great organization and resource to help you build leaders) made a comment one day that I’ve remembered ever since. We were both working with John Maxwell and admiring some new brochures that had just arrived from the printer. They were for conferences Tim and I spoke at. Tim said: “Oh, if we were only as good as our brochures!”  We had a good laugh, and how true!

Here’s the point. When you’re struggling you’re not as bad as you appear, and when you’re winning, you’re not as good as you appear. Don’t get caught up in the momentum and start believing your own press!

When things are going good, when the big mo is with you, you can easily forget all the work it took to get you there. And because you perform better when you have momentum you can begin to behave with unrealistic expectations like your “tree” will grow forever. It just doesn’t work that way.

Momentum is amazing. You want all you can get for as long as you can have it, but if you don’t understand it will bite you in the end. Remember how you got there and keep at it. Thank God daily and work hard.

Momentum is fueled by vision and sustained by competence.

Vision is the source and fuel of momentum. I should say when you take effective action upon your vision that fuels momentum. The basics of vision remain the same. Here are some questions for a quick review. Are you confident that your vision is from God? Have your key leaders bought in to the vision? Do your leaders trust you? Have you thought through a strategy to achieve the vision? (This doesn’t mean you have all the answers, but that you have a basic plan.) Is there a positive spirit amongst your congregation? Is there, in general, a strong sense of faith in your congregation? Do they believe God is in the vision? Do they know what their part is? And the list goes on. The answers to these questions truly matter. There is so much here, but believe it or not, all this just gets the rocket off the launch pad, it won’t keep it in orbit.

Competence keeps it going. Competence makes the dream believable. Yes, there is an overlap, but let me give you an example of how this works. People will pledge to a vision, but they actual pay toward competence. What I mean is people invest their hard earned money into something they believe will actually work.

So let me ask a blunt question. Does your team know what they’re doing?  Can you and your team deliver on what you are promising? God has His part. That’s where faith comes in. But you as a leader and the team must do your part too. That’s what so exciting about a divine partnership. It’s you and God. It’s scary to be out there on the edge, but imagine how scary it would be to be out there alone. God is with you and he is doing His part.

Momentum is killed by entitlement.

You might not imagine this as a reality in the local church but it is. Even Christian leaders can develop a spirit of entitlement.

Here’s how it works in the bigger picture. When there is famine, everyone is in the same boat. You are all trying to survive. You’re hoping, praying and keeping busy. There are no goodies to compete for and no distractions to derail you. You’re all in it together.  You all sink or swim. This develops a great sense of camaraderie and the people hunker down and work hard to find solutions.

When a church finds success, it can take a very different turn. It’s the opposite of famine. Things begin to come your way and people want a little piece of the pie. It may come in the form of attention, or more staff, or a new building with nice new offices. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but can cause leaders lose their focus on what got the momentum going and they begin to look over their shoulder to make sure they are in on the action. This always kills momentum. When leaders lose sight of what really matters and begin to believe they are entitled to something that began with the blessing and favor of God, this always, and I mean always, kills momentum.

Gratitude and hard work are the only appropriate responses to momentum.


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