Creative destruction and disorienting missional engagement are essential practices for congregations after the first generation of their journey. Focusing on these two things will positively impact the vitality and vibrancy of congregations.
When the first generation of the journey of congregations comes to a close — after anywhere from 18 to 27 years since their founding — how do they get traction for their second, third, and following generations? After their first generation congregations either transform their journey, or doom their future by continual denial of the need to transform.
New traction is needed because the founding dream or vision for the congregations crests and wanes. Accountable management is for the first time a stronger force than visionary leadership. The controlling aspects of management must be diminished so once again visionary leadership can soar with faith.
Cultural practices established during the first generation are either empowering or controlling. Typically they are controlling. Why? Because young congregations during the first generation focused on the success of church growth, and failed to instill in their congregations the essential practices of long-term vitality and vibrancy.
[Find three previous articles by George Bullard regarding Essential Practices for Young Congregations: Impacting the Vitality and Vibrancy of Churches for Decades to Come that suggest the solid foundation young congregations need to build.]
The challenge is that whatever the situation of congregations at the end of their first generation, they have the potential — as it is within God’s vision for them — to soar with faith. For some congregations it is easy because the positive commitment to a foundation of long-term growth and health laid by the leaders of the first generation transitions easily into the second generation.
For other congregations it will be difficult because an empowering foundation was not laid. All energies were consumed to make that first generation successful. First generation leaders did not invest long-term in the essential practices the second, third, and following generations would need.
Difficult does not mean impossible or improbable. It simply means difficult. I have no scientific research to back up this statement — just 40 years of consulting with congregations — but I believe for at least 80 percent of all congregations the next part of the journey where they seek to soar with faith will be difficult.
The foundation is not there from the first generation. The essential practices were not hardwired into their congregations. They can transform or be doomed. Transformation involves creative destruction and disorientation.
Essential Practices for Congregations After Their First Generation
First, congregations must diminish the controlling aspects of management and programs at the beginning of creative destruction. Management and programs tend to weigh down congregations, become part of their institutionalization, and need to be the focus of creative destruction to provide time, space, resources, and people power to engage in things that produce new vitality and vibrancy.
Second, congregations must build a new spiritual foundation and a new depth of relationships with God, one another, and the context in which they serve. To unfreeze from where congregations are at rest or stuck requires a spiritual motivation that discovers what God might be up to in congregations.
Third, congregations must focus on missional engagement that disorients the congregation. Risk-taking is important. Congregations must move outside their comfort zone and do things that are missional in nature that causes them to unlearn and relearn what it means to be the presence of Christ in their context.
Fourth, reflect on the learnings and implications from the disorienting missional engagement. Dialogue about that which empowers mission within congregations and what inhibits mission. Commit to a clear path of missional engagement supported by appropriate spiritual formation.
Fifth, engage in transitions and changes for the new journey. Cast away those programs and management factors that no longer fit and need creative destruction. Increase the investment in spiritual formation and missional engagement.
Sixth, clarify and continually cast vision. Begin an ongoing dialogue as to the vision God has for congregations that emerges out of the action and reflection of new spiritual formation and missional engagement.
Seventh, realign resources to live into that vision. As the journey begins to become clearer, make sure the measurement of the goodness and rightness of everything that is done is that it directly supports the fulfillment of the vision of God.
Repeat these practices every seven years or less. It is essential to hardwire into every congregation a solid commitment to engage in creative destruction and risk-taking disorientation at least every seven years.