So you’re leading in a tougher environment than you’ve ever led through in your life.
How do you find momentum and growth in a season when everything you spend your life working toward changed overnight?
A lot of churches and organizations are struggling deeply with momentum right now, and in many cases it feels like there are no good options.
The Coronavirus is not abating nearly as quickly as anyone hoped it would. Short term blips (like remote work, closed schools, and closed or restricted large gatherings) are morphing into longer-term realities.
Life is not going back to what we once thought of as normal any time soon. And as you know, when things change and you don’t, you’re on the fast path to irrelevance.
Obviously, there’s no silver bullet answer to finding growth and momentum in a season of chaos. But there are clues.
And as you already know, this is not a season of decline for everyone. Some churches are growing. So are some businesses.
The question becomes, how can you find momentum and growth in the midst of a bunch of non-ideal options?
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To find momentum, here are 7 things to look for.
1. Pour Fuel On The One Or Two Things That Are Growing
It’s easy to look at the overall view and conclude, “We’re not growing.” But a closer look usually reveals a more complex reality.
Chances are something you’re doing is growing. Maybe you’re picking up a few new social media followers, or your email list is growing, or you have a variety of new people (or a different mix of people) showing up to your events.
The best thing you can do when you find any momentum is to pour more fuel on it.
The temptation in leadership is to be “fair.” To put equal amounts of time, energy and resources into everything you’re doing, but that rarely works.
Instead, focus most of your efforts on what’s producing the majority of your results.
If you can apply the Pareto Principle to all areas of your organization, you’ll go further.
For example, let’s say your kids’ ministry is seeing some momentum right now, but your adult ministry is flat. Do you try to prop up adult ministry with more resources, or do you give more money and resources to kids’ ministry to further their growth?
I would vote for giving more money and resources to kids’ ministry, knowing full well if you can get momentum with kids, you’ll get momentum with parents, who happen to also be adults.
2. Cut Or Discontinue Things You’re Manufacturing Energy For
There’s a term I picked up years ago from the leaders at North Point that I love: manufacturing energy.
Maybe a program that was once effective has stopped being effective. It takes so much energy to keep going that even the staff are only there because they’re paid to do it. No matter how much you promote it, you know you’re manufacturing energy and hype to keep it alive.
If you’re consistently having to manufacture energy, it can be a sign it’s time to stop doing what you’re doing.
You know what most leaders do instead? They market harder. We just need to announce this more often, email everyone and plaster social media with it.
As the famed marketing genius David Ogilvy once said, “Great marketing just makes a bad product fail faster.”
As hard as it is to admit, maybe you’ve plateaued because what you’re offering isn’t that great. So either make it great or kill it.
You need to prune and cut your organization as much as possible to fuel momentum. In the same way that a pruned apple tree grows more apples, a pruned ministry bears more fruit.
3. Start Something New
One of the great things about ministry is that while the message is eternal, the methods aren’t, and leaders who try new things often see great results in their generation.
From the Reformation, the emergence of Methodism, to the (at the time) radical ministry of Billy Graham who used TV and travel to spread the Gospel, new methods give new life to an eternal mission.
Years ago, Andy Stanley gave a powerful talk on momentum where he pointed out the pattern for creating momentum is founded on new, improved, improving.
If you look at the label of any product in your kitchen pantry or bathroom, it’s surprising how often even a legacy brand like Colgate or Arm and Hammer has the words “new” or “improved” on their packaging. From new scent to new flavor, new formula to new packaging, long ago, marketers figured out that the key to sustained momentum was new, improved, or improving.
So the question becomes, what’s new or improved?
Often the answer in the church is ‘nothing.’ You’re trying to get more people to come to the things you’ve always done.
What new approach might you try? How can you improve the way you’re doing what you’re doing?
In the first month of COVID, so many leaders tried new things. Now, mostly what you see on your social media feed is “watch our stream.”
We can get more creative than that.
4. Avoid The Trap Of Doing Nothing Well
There’s an emerging trap for church leaders that’s worth avoiding at all costs: the trap of doing nothing well.
Almost every church is now trying to do in-person attendance and online church right now. The challenge is both require time, money and resources.
If the longer-term trend is that in-person attendance numbers will be lower even after COVID is completely a non-issue (which could be months or years from now), then that creates a challenge.
Namely, that many churches have the highest level of staff and budgets invested where they’re seeing the lowest returns.
Meanwhile, online is understaffed. You probably won’t have a big impact online if you spend 1% of your staffing resources on it.
The trap is that you end up doing nothing well.
I wrote a full post on that here with some suggestions if you want to explore that more deeply more.
5. Study The Micro And Macro Shifts In Culture Happening Right Now
Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, famously said his strategy was to skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.
Some of the shifts happening right now are deep and permanent. Cultural patterns are changing before our eyes.
In this interview, Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb, talks about how Airbnb saw an 80% drop in revenue in 8 weeks, but how they reversed that within months.
What Airbnb did, by reading the market, is create a new home cleanliness and sanitization benchmark for wary travelers scared of catching COVID. In addition, they realized most people wanted to vacation, but now it was a place in the country or a small town within driving distance of where they lived. So, Airbnb immediately pivoted to local, more rural rentals rather than basing their whole strategy on people flying to exotic cities, a pattern which of course, collapsed in minutes when the world shut down.
So where’s the puck going? Obviously, things are still changing quickly, but there are two cultural shifts I’m watching.
The first is the emergence of the home as the new epicenter of life (work, school, shopping, entertainment and eating). As church leaders keep trying to regather people in a building, perhaps a longer vision is to figure out how to come alongside people in their homes.
A second, related trend is smaller, localized gatherings. For the immediate future anyway, it appears people are most comfortable with home gatherings and smaller clusters. The church can very easily function in those settings (gathering is important), and it scales much more easily than a central facility-based strategy.
Just a note: as of August 2020, Airbnb is now even with last year’s revenue simply by shifting how it did travel. If they left calcified their business model as dependent on people getting on planes to fly thousands of miles, it might be the end.
What cultural trends can you cooperate with?
A strategy based on past behavior won’t reach people in the present, let alone in the future.
6. Focus On Your Sweet Spot
You have a sweet spot as a leader, and my guess is your church has a sweet spot, as well.
Crisis throws everyone and everything off balance, and it’s easy to forget what you’re truly gifted at and excel at as a result.
Jim Collins asked the question this way: What can you be best in the world at?
I know that’s an audacious question, but the more you can align your gifting and passion with how you spend your time, the more effective you will be.
Sure, in start-up mode, you need to do a little of everything. But over time, the more you spend doing what you’re best at, the more you will love what you do and the greater value you’ll bring to your team and cause.
Often churches and leaders who plateau get stuck because they’re not operating in their area of peak giftedness or effectiveness.
For me, I realized I’m essentially a communicator. Everything I do (this, podcasting, speaking, writing books) is geared around communication. So, the best gift I can bring to any organization is clear and compelling communication.
What’s your gift? For some of you it’s relationship. For others, strategy. And what’s your church best at? For some churches, it’s caring for the poor and marginalized. Others host great services. Others, it’s content creation. For still others, it’s facilitating relationships and connection.
You may be good at many things, but you’re only great a few things. Spend your time there.
7. Ask What Your Successor Would Do
This is a fun mental exercise.
Ask yourself what your successor would do. If you left your role today and a new person started tomorrow, what’s the first thing he or she would do?
Strangely, you almost immediately sense an answer to that question. Oh, they’d shut down X and move Sean to this role.
Once you figure that out, just go do it.
Often reframing the question gives you clarity about the answer.