“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Luke 19:10 (NIV)
What a powerful statement. Jesus was solidly focused on his purpose. When the crowd of so called “respectable” people began to talk, well let’s call it what it was, they began to gossip about Jesus. And to be honest, it really was scandalous what Jesus was doing. Jesus had intentionally decided to hang out with that wee little sinner – Zacchaeus. How does Jesus respond to his critics? Well, he clearly articulates his mission – “I came to save those who need saving.” Now, the fact that his mission was so religiously criminal is an indicator of just how far the people of God had drifted from being a world-changing movement.
A few years back, I was listening to a podcast by Jonathan Del Turco. He said that most organizations – and for the sake of this article just insert church here – start out as a movement led by a risk-taker. Over time, the natural drift is for a movement to become a museum, led by a caretaker. If left unchecked, a museum will eventually become a mausoleum, led by an undertaker. I fear that most American churches have subtly and slowly followed this trajectory.
Here’s the main point: Jesus launched a movement, and we get to continue to be that movement in this present age. If you find yourself in an organization that has drifted and you’re wondering if there is an easy solution, the answer is no. I wish there was a simple 3-step process I could share with you to reignite your organization. The reality that many of us are facing is that the farther away our organizations have drifted from being a movement in our communities, the more arduous it will be to shift back. It is hard work. If you are willing to try, let me offer some initial suggestions to get you moving in the right direction. Among other things, make sure what you do is actually aligned with your mission, start taking risks, and evaluate and revaluate everything against the mission. Full disclosure: Embracing the process of relaunching as a movement will cost you donors on the front end and may even cost you friends.
RE-ALIGN WITH YOUR MISSION:
Many churches have a mission statement that goes something like this: We exist to love God and love others. A little vague, but nothing wrong with that statement. The danger with vague mission statements is that we can easily use them to justify preserving and curating the past. Believe me, I am speaking to myself here. It is so easy to get off mission and not even realize it. When that big donor suggests a pet project or that influential member criticizes you for not wearing a suit and tie, it is easy to allow the mission of the movement to be hijacked by the agenda of museum.
How are you doing here? Does your functional ministry agenda, program, and language actually align with your written mission? In my current context, we are committed to reaching the 41% of people in our community who have never stepped foot inside a church. We are passionate about this. We allocate a large amount of money to create environments that clearly present Jesus as the only way to the Father and present biblical truths in a way that people with no religious background can grasp it all the while staying decisively true to the Scriptures. It is entirely possible for your organization to have a really solid mission statement, but to function in a way that doesn’t actually fulfill that mission. Is your church or ministry area aligned with the organization’s mission, or is your mission being hijacked by the need to preserve the past, to keep people happy, or simply, by normal missional drift?
TAKE A RISK:
Jesus took risks all the time, especially when it came to relationships. He risked scrutiny when he hung out with sinners. He risked ‘standing’ with the religious elite when he reframed the commandments to bring clarity to the law. He risked teaching spiritual truths in the form of simple stories called parables so that the Kingdom would be accessible to everyone. He risked being despised by the religious crowd for calling out their hypocrisy and reaching out to the least of those in society.
How are you doing here? Risk-taking may not be your thing, but I’d encourage you to consider stepping out in faith and risking something for the sake of one person far from God. I personally don’t believe that faith can actually exist apart from risk. Perhaps, risk following Jesus’ example to give more grace than you’ve been given. Every movement of God has been led by a risk-taker. Abraham risked leaving his home. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” By faith Moses, chose to be mistreated along with God’s people (Hebrews 11:24-25). By faith the prostitute Rahab,… I’ll just leave you with that much (Hebrews 11:31). Jesus risked the cross, the disciples risked their lives, and the story continues with us. What are you risking?
I like to say that people count, so we count people. Every number represents a person and that person represents a life changed, or not. You’ll never know how you are doing if you refuse to look at the numbers. You’ll never be able to honestly evaluate your organization, your priorities, or your effectiveness if you don’t compare one year to the next. If no one is showing up to an event, then evaluate it, reinvent it, relaunch it, or kill it. If people far from God are not showing up to your services, then evaluate, reinvent, relaunch, or consider honestly embracing a slow painful death.
INVEST IN DONORS:
The primary theme of this month’s newsletter is on growing your church, increasing attendance and increasing income while remaining Christocentric. Like some, I actually believe that all of this can be accomplished. People will give to a movement, but beware, the presence of money, at times, can be an indicator that you are shifting from movement to museum.
Movements typically start with little to no money. The lack of money demands ingenuity, originality, and creative problem solving, which are all essential components of keeping the movement alive. Here are some tips on increasing giving:
- Leaders lead in the area of giving.
- Leaders challenge other leaders to give.
- Leaders teach regularly on biblical generosity.
- Leaders regularly honor normal, everyday people who are exemplary examples of generosity (Barnabas Acts 4).
As we move back into a new type of normal, this is the perfect opportunity to reset your organization. We are not going back to life as normal when we emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic, so make the most of this moment to kill all the sacred cows that threaten to hijack your mission.
About the Author
Jon Swanson is the assistant superintendent for the Reach Conference and the communications pastor of Timberlake Church in the Seattle area. He previously served churches in Washington and Colorado in a variety of roles that have included lead pastor and worship pastor. He holds a doctorate and a master’s degree from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Jacksonville, Florida.