At what speed should congregations move?

As we enter 2013, at what speed is your congregation moving? I believe congregations should move at the speed of the leading edge 20 percent of the people in the congregation who are the proactive, positive, and passionate leaders; that is, if this speed is the result of congregational collaboration.

If 20 percent are moving at a fast rate, and these 20 percent are passionate leaders, then 80 percent of the congregation is moving at a slower pace. Within the 80 percent are many longer tenured members, the majority of the larger financial contributors, and the management leaders. If this is true, how fast can the leading edge really move without unhealthy conflict arising?

At what point does the leading edge get so far out in front that they make a great target?

The reality is if a congregation never wants to fall behind its culture, never wants to find itself in a position where it is no longer the attractive church in the area, and never wants to become contextually irrelevant, then it must move at the speed of the leading edge 20 percent.

One way to look at this would be to talk about which lane you are driving in on an interstate highway that has three lanes on each side. In the right lane are typically the vehicles that are driving at or below the speed limit. They slow down the flow of the traffic.

In the center lane are people who are driving at or within 10 percent above the speed limit. They seem to be right on target for what’s anticipated as the appropriate speed on the highway.

In the left lane are people who tend to be running 10-20 (or more) mph above the speed limit. Not only are they obviously breaking the law, but they are taking safety into their own hands. In what lane would you find the leading edge of your congregation? What difference does it make which lane they are driving in?

If your congregation is driving in the right lane, then it is probably falling behind the pace of transition and change. Time will create a significant gap between where you are and where you could have been if you had been running at the speed limit. You become truly out of sight to the people riding in the other two lanes. You do not maintain a pace of transition and change that can lead to transformation for your congregation.

If you are riding in the center lane at or just above the speed limit, then you probably represent what is considered to be typical of the speed at which the congregation should be running. You are seeking incremental and continuous transition and change, relevance to the context you serve, and to be a congregation where people are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

At the same time people in the left lane are sailing along at speeds that are 10 to 20 or more miles over the speed limit. While there’s obvious risk, while there’s obvious disrespect for the management guidelines that your congregation has put into place, these people are not as reckless as it may seem.

This analogy is not suggesting the people in far left lane are always correct. They are a danger on the road at times. Yet, they are passionate about arriving at their destination. They can, however, allow their passion to blind them to moving the whole congregation system forward. They are partly right in their zeal and risk taking to get someplace in a hurry. They need to be heard and appreciated just as the people in the middle lane and right lane need to be heard and appreciated.

The speed with which your congregation needs to travel should be negotiated. There needs to be collaboration about the speed of transition and change. Various speed drivers do not need to ignore one another. Acknowledgment is needed of the past which is symbolized by the right lane, the present, which is symbolized by the center lane, and the future which is symbolized of the left lane.

There can be an intolerance of people in all three lanes for listening to the other two lanes. When that is happening in a congregation, then you can expect a cataclysmic conflict.

At what speed is your congregation moving? In which lane are your traveling?

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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