REVIVAL AND MOMENTUM
I grew up in a Charismatic/Pentecostal church in the 80’s and 90’s, when revival was a buzz-word. Church today is just not comparable to the way it was. Creative ministry has radically changed in the last twenty years and become so much better. We had the flag baton twirlers, the hand-held banners with the Hebrew names of God appliquéd on them, ladies who would prance around waving quilting circles with ribbons attached to them, dubbed the “glory hoop.” We sang the imitation Jewish songs in the minor keys with no break between them. We laughed in piles on the floor through the Charismatic Renewal of the 90’s, and started crawling our way into contemporary worship with Ron Kenoly and “Ancient of Days.” It wasn’t snake-handling weird, but it got pretty rowdy. It wasn’t white steeples, hymnbooks, and wooden pews sedate Christianity.
Church was deeply experiential, with a focus on the idea that God isn’t distant and disengaged, but the reverse. As we put our attention on Jesus, our awareness of just how close and how interested God is in us is heightened to the point that we could actually sense the divine in our services. During some of our most spiritual moments in church, leaders used to come forward and prophesy that revival was coming. It was a theme we revisited several times a year, and we were deeply passionate about it. From my childish perspective, revival was that magical moment when people, prompted by the Holy Spirit, would spontaneously begin to flood the church, getting saved en masse. I understood this to be something divine, a movement of people totally manufactured by God. We were waiting for God to do something huge.
In many ways, I don’t think that much has changed in church life. We still value the same things; it’s just the creative expression that has changed. Churches like Elevation or Hillsong New York, which have seen rapid, massive growth are celebrated and respected. Most people don’t label this as revival, but it’s the same concept: lots of hurting people meeting Jesus, coming to church services, finding wholeness again.
I question whether this happened as a result of a spontaneous divine movement. I’m not even sure that this kind of revival is a real thing. Sure, I know about the Great Awakenings, and moments in history when society moved back toward God. I just think that there is more to it than the Holy Spirit suddenly deciding to move. Does he love our generation any less because we haven’t seen the kind of revival that Jonathan Edwards saw? The obvious answer is no, so there must be another explanation.
Jesus told us to go and make disciples for him. There is nothing passive about his final instruction. There’s nothing in there that can be interpreted as waiting in church services for people to spontaneously show up. It’s active language—go, make. We do all we can do, and God does what only he can do. We go get them, give them the message of truth; and God wakes up their spirit inside them, stamps them with the Holy Spirit. We train them, and we love them; include them in our community.
Perhaps because Christianity is based on mysterious, spiritual concepts, we tend to approach our church services the same way. We have tricked ourselves into believing that the most spiritual moments happen in the moment, and that understanding the processes that create revival makes it somehow less spiritual. When you boil it down, however, churches that are growing fast do certain things well.
Growing churches know how to use momentum. Momentum is the residual force created by the effort of the past, still working in the present. Momentum is not magical, and it’s not supernatural, but it can multiply the effectiveness of the work we do. God will breathe on what we do, with or without momentum. It’s just that with momentum, we are able to speed up the pace of growth.
Force has to be continually applied to keep momentum going. Momentum is never self-sustaining. Even the strongest momentum will eventually fade. We have to continually push, but momentum has the ability to exponentially increase the force we are pushing with. With positive momentum, the same efforts will produce stronger results. Negative momentum will limit the effects of our efforts, producing less effective results than starting from a standstill. Positive momentum makes you look better than you are, and negative momentum makes you look worse than you are.
Momentum is not as mysterious as you might think. We can manage the ebb and flow. Smart leaders learn when to push momentum forward, and when to glide on top of the momentum they have created, allowing their team to breathe. Intuitive leaders are tuned into their teams, and can sense how hard and how fast the team can push without reaching exhaustion. On the other end, when we are riding the wave, leaders have to read momentum’s slow down and mark the right place to start pushing again. Pushing from a standstill is much harder than pushing with the assistance of the wave of momentum.
In a church context, the push that creates positive momentum has basically three essential parts. All three of these elements have to happen concurrently. We build anticipation for our services, make great services happen, and then build expectation off of great services toward what is coming next. Momentum is built from event to event, from weekend to weekend, from series to series.
Church Marketing: Building Anticipation
* Advance planning for church services. You can’t promote what you don’t know. The best planning happens as a team, without the pressure of time, in a creative environment. Your planning shapes what you will advertise about upcoming services.
* Advertising. Advertise to your church attenders and to your community. Make it a regular part of your budget, not just when you have a big event. Advertise your Sunday service—it’s the main event!
* Branding. You attract people like you. You won’t attract anyone if you don’t know who you are. Make it look good, keep it simple, and make it easy for anyone to understand.
Making Magic: In the Moment
* Leverage your talent. Everyone is not the same; everyone is not equal. Don’t pretend like they are. Everyone has something they are good at, and it’s up to leaders to make sure people are able to win by doing what they do best most of the time.
* Be great. Never settle for okay. Keep pushing for great without getting nasty. Pay attention to the peripherals.
* Connect, both on and off the platform. Make it feel personal, not general, even in large audiences. Keep thinking about what makes a service experience great for your attenders.
* Be memorable. Deliberately design memorable moments in your service. Think about what can become a talking point for church attenders, something that might spark a conversation later.
Make Trends: Building Expectation
* Use series. People look forward to the next installment. It’s why the literary trilogies and film trilogies work well. If the first one was good, we come back for number two and number three!
* Maximize the afterglow. There is a reason Hollywood after parties are a big deal. This happens through highlight videos on Youtube, social media feedback, hash tags for pic posting. Celebrating what happened makes people feel good, but it also keeps people talking about it.
* Consistently be inviting. Don’t have an event/service without inviting people to what’s next, with dates, and why it’s unmissable.
* Follow up. Close the revolving door through repetitive, consistent, thorough, relational follow-up. You don’t have to stalk people for it to be good follow-up.
This process may seem a little clinical or business-like because it’s straightforward, but don’t let that turn you off. Girls especially like church life to be very relational and organic. I’m all for that, but left to our own devices, we tend to keep to our own small circles of relationship, so we have to do practical things that intentionally broaden our potential circle of friends.
BE THE ENGINE
In most churches, multiple different teams look after all these things. Even though we may be directly responsible for just one area, it’s better to have a sense of ownership of the whole. If every team just focuses inwardly toward their own responsibilities, gaps happen between the teams. Tiny little details are forgotten in no-mans land, not directly assigned to anyone. The stuff that falls through those cracks is usually the difference between good and great.
I was in a church recently that deliberately cross-supports from team to team. Every team supplies something to another team, and is also dependent on another team to do something for them. No team is fully self-sufficient, so they can’t isolate. Forcing collaboration across teams means that church is far less likely to miss important details. This interesting model has built great team relationships and collaboration.
Thinking broader can feel overwhelming if you haven’t done it before. If you are barely handling your present to-do list, then the thought of adding everyone else’s to your own can make you edgy. God stretches us so that we can help carry the weight for more and more. That’s one of our leadership journeys. Some people are incredibly detailed and can manage the complex workings of this process with ease, but not everyone can. Usually we have to work together to keep this process moving forward.
Most of us girls are not the final say in our churches. If you aren’t the pastor, it can be easy to throw your hands up and say, “Sounds great, but I can’t make this happen; I don’t have the authority.” I understand that feeling. I do believe, however, that if every idea has to come from the pastor, and nothing can happen unless the pastor says so, then a church is incredibly limited. We are all gifted uniquely. We are God-designed to complement each other, and each one of us has something unique to bring to the body of Christ.
I would a thousand times rather have a team member that I have to reign in than someone I have to push. The most high-functioning teams don’t wait on anyone. Their leader is like a horse and carriage driver. The team is the power that carries the leader forward, but he sets the course, making small corrections to keep everyone moving together toward the same target. Low functioning team leaders are more like donkey herders. The leader isn’t getting carried anywhere, but is pulling the team along, trying to herd everyone toward the same target. In the best teams, the engine, the drive forward, comes from the team, not from the leader. The direction comes from the leader.
When you understand your value to the church, it’s much easier to take initiative. It’s exhausting for senior pastors to always have to be the first to think of everything, the first to call a meeting, or to design a campaign. What would it look like if instead of coming to your pastor with a list of questions that need answering, or problems that need his attention, that you came with options, or solutions he can choose from. Don’t wait for him to ask for it, just provide it like he already did. Be the engine; make things happen. Learn to lead up as well as you lead down.