Impacting the Vitality and Vibrancy of Churches For Decades to Come
The ministry practices congregations establish during their first seven years of life, that must be re-envisioned and renewed every seven years thereafter, are institutionalized by the time congregations are 21 years old—almost a generation since birth.
Sixth, develop management systems and decision-making that are lean and mean, agile and flexible, and require renewal so they do not become institutionalized. In spite of the best efforts by young congregations, they all reach a point when management gets more attention than mission and vision.
Young congregations must be committed to Essential Practice Three about the culture and leadership of the congregation, and committed to never allowing management to replace vision as that which fuels the movement of the congregation.
The longer a congregation is in existence the more governing documents like constitutions and bylaws, policy manuals, books of order, books discipline, and other similar documents replace the living Word of God as the divining rod for the rightness of the actions of congregations.
Control snuffs out empowerment. Empowerment seeks to help congregations be all they can be under God. Control keeps people from doing things those who have memorized the governing documents do not want them to do.
Leaders of young congregations often do not realize the practices and rules intended to empower congregations during the first generation of their journey become things that control during the second, third, and following generations of the journey.
Young congregations should institute a sunset clause on all but the basic incorporation charter of congregations. The sunset clause should require all bylaws, rules, and policies to be re-evaluated every five to seven years, or they go out of existence.
Essential Practice Six: Institutionalize a policy of agility and flexibility on the management systems and decision-making by the congregation that not only allows but forces each succeeding generation to bring their governance in alignment to support any redreaming or renewal of the vision of the congregation.
Seventh, build or purchase all the land and buildings congregations needed, but no more than they absolutely must have. Actually take a risk to purchase more land than needed, and to build or retrofit just less than the square feet of facilities needed.
Whenever facilities are constructed or renovated, do so with as high a quality as the economics of the congregation can support and the community standards will require. Provide facilities that are as flexible as possible for when the need arises to change the use of portions of the facilities.
Remember that first unit buildings or expansion buildings constructed quickly and cheaply, and in the wrong place on your land, that you said you would replace one day, are still there 50 years later. They then require an unreasonable amount of money to actually use, and repair or retrofit. Also, any building built on past-to-present educational designs with load-bearing walls in the wrong places will be underutilized in years to come and become the subject of one of Murphy’s Laws. That Law is that junk expands to fill the available space.
Essential Practice Seven: Build or purchase all the land and buildings congregations need, but no more than they absolutely must have. Too little land in a bad location may hamper the future of the congregation. Too many buildings or too much square footage may turn the church into a museum in disrepair and make the staff the curators.
Call to Action
These seven essential practices are a call to action for young congregations. They need to see their responsibility for not only faithful, effective, and innovative leadership during the first generation of their congregations, but also for forward-thinking about what God might do during subsequent generations of the journey of their congregations.
Yes, it is enough in one sense to focus on the success, significance, and surrender of congregations as they develop during the first generation of their journey. It does take exceptional leadership to think about where a congregation will be on its 50th anniversary. Yet, that is a key difference between good leadership and exceptional leadership.
It is also one of the greatest gifts young congregations can give to the future of their congregations. It may be that one of the best tests of the quality and character of leadership during the first generation of congregations is what characterizes congregations on their 50th anniversary. Will it be vitality and vibrancy or lethargy and spiritlessness?
Those leaders who come after you will be grateful for your farsightedness and wisdom.