Growth brings change. Period. That’s true for a big company or a small church, and it’s true for people, families, corporations, and countries. If you want to function well at the next level, reinvention is absolutely necessary.
When a family starts having kids, reinvention takes place. New parents need to figure out what life looks like with less personal time and more demands. Another bedroom, a larger car, or a different neighborhood might be in order.
The church family is similar. An increase in attendance, a new service time, or a different location all require more volunteers, more detailed planning, a different communication strategy, and other adjustments. For fast-growing churches, reinvention is necessary for survival. For static churches, reinvention is an opportunity to reinvigorate the mission for another push forward. Either way, many of the considerations are the same.
1. START WITH THE LEADER
When change is required or desired, it must start with the leader. This is especially true in a church, where the lead pastor’s vision, strengths, and style wield a great deal of influence through the ministry of preaching. When a fellow pastor turned 40, he took deliberate steps to transition from young-gun preacher to fatherly pastor. This shift sent a message throughout the church body that they were done with their childhood years and needed to move toward full maturity.
Each time when I am faced with a new season brought on by growth, I take Joshua’s words to heart when he said to Israel, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 5:3 (ESV)). This verse comes from a time when Joshua was preparing Israel to move the Ark of the Covenant. The word consecrate can also be described as purify, or as I like to look at it “prepare your heart.” John Calvin’s Commentary calls out that “that the people were thus commanded to purge themselves from defilements.”
Before a leader can properly lead through a growth phase, that leader must go through a process of what I call “consecration.” This is a process where I might fast, pray, and allow the Holy Spirit to call out sin that is in my life. As we know from John 16:8 and Romans 8:26, the Holy Spirit will convict us of our sin and actually help us in our weakness for we do not know how we ought to pray.
Before any change can happen in your family, your church, or your company, you must first repent to the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin and show you areas you need to focus on. Again, many leaders will start outward growth, but they must first focus on inward growth.
2. DEFINE THE NEXT LEVEL
For churches, the most obvious next-level marker is attendance. By no means is attendance the only way to measure progress, but if a church doubles in size, it will be on a new level in terms of its need for volunteers, a system for assimilating new people, more small groups, better communication, and someone to architect all of those adjustments.
Besides attendance, a church may experience a new transition when a new leader takes over, when the congregation moves to a new building, or when young families start having kids, for example.
A church that waits for the next level to arrive before taking on these tasks will either be caught unprepared, or the lack of initiative will become a self-fulfilling prophecy with the church ceasing to grow and mature. If you fail to make the changes at your current level, you’ll probably never get to the next one.
3. START ALL OVER
Success for a new church starting out in the pastor’s living room will look much different when that church moves into the community center, and once again when they buy their first building.
I started my first business right out of business school with no practical business experience, so I was at the very beginning. However, I made progress by getting various certifications, attending conferences, meeting with mentors, and learning from my mistakes.
Then, I started over again when I moved to the Middle East. I was working with billions of dollars and thousands of employees rather than millions and hundreds.
For a church, starting over may include scrapping certain programs, drafting a new governance system, creating a new budget model, and in other ways rebuilding the infrastructure so that it can bear the future load.
4. STAY HUMBLE AND LEARN
Success at one level does not guarantee success at the next level. Never assume you’re an expert on level five because you were an expert on level four. Stay humble. Instead of comparing yourself to others, seek to learn from them instead. Find someone who is a few steps ahead of where you want to be, drop them a line, ask questions, and learn. Look for opportunities to do the same for someone else.
5. EXPECT FAILURES AND MISTAKES
Progress inevitably includes failure, which is why many people and churches stay put. It’s far easier and far less scary to stick with what you know and slip into maintenance mode.
Without new challenges, however, new growth will cease. Try, fail, and at least you’ll end up learning something. Never try, never fail, and you’ll probably end up full of regret and bitterness against those who took a risk that paid off. Going to the next level most likely involves great pain, great humility, and great failure, but it all comes with the possibility of great fruit as the payoff.
Preparing for the next level is a healthy exercise, even if the transition is a long way off. It forces people to think about what’s working and what’s not, rather than settling for the status quo. Sometimes, the preparation itself can become a catalyst that sparks maturity and growth. As the lead pastor calls people to a vision or a destination, a strategic-thinking executive pastor figures out how to get there, level by level.
It’s never a bad time to consider the next level that Jesus has been preparing for you.