A few weeks ago Gary and I traveled to a warmer climate for a week’s vacation. Jogging along the beach the first day, I immediately noticed the wind. It came from the northeast and was relentless! As long as I ran south on the beach I was fine. I was spirited along by the wind and was running almost effortlessly. However, as soon as I turned around to come back, it felt as if I were running into a brick wall. The momentum of the wind made all the difference.
On Sunday, February 11, at our Grand Rapids District Conference, Rev. Wayne Schmidt, pastor of Kentwood Community Church, will be talking to us about how to gain and keep momentum in the church. In his book, Ministry Momentum, which I read a few weeks ago, Schmidt says that momentum is discovering what God is doing and then aligning what we are doing with it. You and I cannot create a movement of God’s spirit ourselves. Nor can we control it. However, we can create an atmosphere conducive to this spiritual momentum. We can be the catalysts of what God is doing through the Holy Spirit.
In his book Schmidt tells the story of the amazing growth of Kentwood Community Church. Having attended worship there a week ago and having heard Schmidt preach, I was blessed by this faithful congregation, by their love for God, their desire to reach out to one another with grace and care, and their passion for making disciples.
In some of the SPRC meetings this fall, I asked the question, “When were the glory years of your congregation? Can you name a time when the momentum of your congregation was the strongest?” For some the answer came quickly: they could identify clearly the time, the pastor and the circumstances. Others had more difficulty sensing times of great momentum.
I think you would agree that momentum comes and goes in churches as well as other organizations. Most churches go through ups and down, times of growth and decline, and periods of intense activity as well as Sabbath rest. It’s normal even for vital, growing churches to experience years when attendance levels off, only to have the church take off again when a building project is completed, a new program is initiated or another worship service is added. I believe that when churches are intensely involved in capital campaigns or significant outreach, it is good at times to slow down, catch our breath, and be still for a while. We do that as individuals, so why can’t we do it as churches as well? Actually, it’s during those seemingly fallow times of rest after a tremendous output of energy and momentum that we prepare for the next step of growth.
What is our role as pastors in creating and maintaining momentum? In his book, Schmidt writes, “Spiritual leaders have the responsibility to sense where God is leading and to mobilize God’s people to follow.” I would also offer the following suggestions.
- Start with what God wants, not what you want. Your only goal is discerning God’s will for your congregation. You create momentum only when you run with the wind of the Holy Spirit, not against it.
- Have a vision for making disciples for the transformation of the world in your particular setting. Momentum is propelled by vision, and you are the leader.
- Make it a shared vision. “Shared” means involving your staff and lay leaders in the formation of the vision. You cannot create and sustain momentum on your vision and energy alone. It’s a sure recipe for burnout.
- Do your homework and be realistic. A vision which is impossible to ever achieve only creates discouragement and hopelessness. Momentum builds upon itself as the completion of each small step in the process is celebrated.
- Communicate clearly and often with the congregation. Momentum depends on the collective and cumulative energy and passion of people who are “on board” and are invested in a vision which is continually held before the congregation.
- Understand the importance of timing and be willing to be patient. What effect is the local economy having on the congregation? What is the current level of spiritual maturity in the congregation? Do you have strong lay leadership on the committees that need to create and sustain the momentum? Does the congregation need more time to rest before pursing another major goal?
- Undergird all that you do with prayer. Through prayer we stay connected with a God who creates, calls, nurtures and challenges. Is your prayer ministry at the heart of the momentum?
I am eager to hear Wayne Schmidt preach to us about how to create and sustain momentum in our local churches. Are you coming to the district conference?
Sunday, February 11
Wesley Park UMC, Grand Rapids, 1150 32nd Street SW, Wyoming
3:00 p. m. Business Meeting
4:00 p.m. Worship with Rev. Wayne Schmidt
5:00 p.m. Q & A with Wayne and Ministry Fair
5:30 p.m. On your way home
Several of Wayne’s books will also be for sale.