I’m currently reading through Gary L. McIntosh’s book Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He spends time talking about what an emerging church, a growing church, a consolidating church, a declining church, and a dying church look like. In a sense, he seems to say that what makes churches more dynamic than not is whether they have a clear vision of what the church should be and are willing to pursue that vision in their cultural context.
I pastor a 225 year old church here at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church and one of the words that has started to move forward in my mind is the word ‘momentum.’ Listen to McIntosh’s analogy:
Think of a large cruise ship traveling at top speed. What would happen to such a ship if it suddenly shut off its engines while in the middle of an ocean? Would it come to an immediate stop? No, the momentum established would keep the ship going. The passengers would not notice the slowdown at first and would likely keep enjoying the various activities on deck. Very slowly, almost totally unrecognized, the ship would begin to show down. The friction of the water and waves working against the hull of the ship, while at first hardly perceptible, would create drag, slowing the ship. Winds blowing against the upper decks, again going unnoticed, would push against the ship, adding to the overall resistance. Eventually the ship would come to a stop, drifting aimlessly on the waves and currents (p. 97).
This is a danger for every church older than 25 years of age, in my opinion. They start their church, find a mission, love the Word, love the people in their culture and in their church, and momentum ensues. When they reach their goals, the danger is for a satisfying lull to take place afterwards.
Ed Stetzer noted one time that the reason so many are planting churches now is that it’s easier to birth a baby than raise the dead. He has written an excellent book with Mike Dodson called Comeback Churches that I highly recommend. He notes that the priority of pastors in comeback churches are to
- Preach/disciple the Word of God clearly and boldly
- Train the leaders and thus help effectively multiply your ministry;
- Win the lost to Christ.
Smaller, historic churches lose momentum when they begin to see what the church can do for them, rather than what they as the church should do for Christ and the culture in which he has planted them. They begin to see pastors as Captain Chaplain who keep the boat steady, keep the passengers happy, and keep the activities eventful for those already on board.
Rather, the pastor ultimately has Christ and the glory of God fully in mind. When churches begin to live beyond their means and rely of Christ’s riches rather than their own resources or comfort, momentum will build in Jesus’ name by the power of the Spirit.
It’s His church.
He knows how best to pilot it.