Dr. Tom Cheyney

The race is about to begin! You are waiting at the starting line for the starter’s horn to sound and the sailing race to commence! The timer’s clock shows there is still twenty minutes to go before the race horn sounds. It’s going to be a while, that much you know as you look around, because most of the boats are still at a dead stop. But with less than ten minutes to go before the start there is a new wave of activity around you. The race boat's participants display well-rehearsed activity and the sails fill with air as they begin to move towards the starting line. Some start fast and others start out ever so slowly. It seems to take the larger boats so long to get going.

When I was younger I raced sailboats of all sizes.  It was so easy to get a 14-foot Hobbie Cat moving as compared to the 69-foot Morgan Out-Islander deep hull.  But once that larger sailboat began to move the wind within its sails had no problem maintaining hull sped and plowing through the water with great efficiency!

It’s the principle of inertia at work: things at rest tend to want to stay at rest and things in motion tend to want to stay in motion.

That is also true in building momentum for the reopening of your church after this pandemic we have been facing:

Sometimes the greatest risk is in doing nothing.
The inertia that a moving object builds up is called momentum. It takes lots of energy to build up momentum but it takes far less energy to maintain it. Momentum is more than a principle of physics. It is a principle we can apply to our personal lives and to the life of a renewing church as well. Momentum in reopening efforts will out distance negative skunking every time.

Have you met any Church Skunkers in your church reopening efforts?  Church skunking is the ploy that happens frequently within the local church toward new ideas and efforts. This is when pessimistic church members spray negativity all over those creative church members who are trying to spark the reopening efforts of the church. A well-known example would be the tried but true expression by skunkers “It is a good idea but it will never work.” Sometimes you must reopen with the few and allow those who are not secure in the effort time to see that it is working and that the church is doing everything it can to keep members safe.

When you have the power of momentum the skunkers will try hard to slow things down but keeping the energy moving forward is vital to a church reopening effort.

Let’s look at the importance of momentum in a church reopening strategy:

The Muscle of Momentum

First an illustration: Two teams have a game together. The team the experts consider to be the underdog has previously played teams not as good as they are, so they’ve won all of their games; they’re undefeated. The better team has played teams ranked equally or better than themselves, so they’ve lost many of their games. Who’s going to win? No one can know for certain, but a betting person would be smart to put money on the underdog team that’s undefeated. Momentum can be a big advantage!

John Maxwell, a nationally-known (church) leadership expert, has written a book called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. (Thomas Nelson Publisher, Nashville, Tenn. © 1998, Maxwell Motivation, Inc.) One of the 21 laws is the law of momentum. Maxwell contends that a leader must create and sustain momentum among those he leads if he is to succeed.   Someone has well said:

A minister doesn’t become truly effective as a leader until after seven years at a church.
Even churches trying to reopen and get public worship back can experience a lack of momentum when there are few things to measure relative to growth, either spiritually or numerically during the initial reopening stage. Because the church has been closed and doing ministry online for almost three months now, the church has been on a plateau not of its choosing. This inertia of going nowhere does not last long, however. Negative momentum (going backward faster and faster) begins if an aggressive drive for new life again is not pursued.

Jesus Told a Story about Momentum
Momentum played a role in one of the stories Jesus told. The story is about a wealthy man who had to be away on business for an extended period of time. He called together his three associates and gave them his wealth to invest while he was gone. One was given five talents, another was given two, and the third was given one talent to oversee.

A talent was about what an ordinary worker could earn in 20 years. For comparison, let’s use $30,000 for a worker’s annual salary today. That is easy math for us to work with. That means one worker was given $3 million, another $1.2 million, and the third $600,000.

After a long period of time the wealthy man returned and found that the first associate had invested the $3 million and doubled it to $6 million. The second associate had invested his as well, and also doubled it—to $2.4 million. The third, however, had simply hid his $600,000 in a mattress, a tin can in the backyard, or some place like that, and had the same $600,000 to give back to his boss.

The boss was very pleased with the first two men for doubling his money, but he was angry with the third man. He took the $600,000 he had given to that man and gave it to the one with $6 million. Jesus wants His followers to see the importance of using whatever God gives us in life. We’re to invest wisely what He’s given us in opportunities, finances, abilities, and time. Jesus indicates that when we attempt to do something with what we’ve been given, we’re going to end up with more, and this increase will increase even more. In Jesus’ story, the man who had acquired the ten talents was given an eleventh (the one taken from the man who did nothing) presumably to continue to multiply his boss’s wealth.

Jesus summarized the story by saying, “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 25:29). That’s the principle of momentum at work. The one who works and takes risks to multiply what he has been given by God has even more, and the one who doesn’t do anything to gain more will lose what he has. Sometimes the greatest risk is in doing nothing.

Some things that Cause Us to Lose Momentum in Reopening
There are many things that cause us to lose our momentum in our Church Reopening:

  • Discouragement can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Reopening
  • Failure can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Reopening
  • A lack of focus can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Reopening
  • Ungratefulness can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Reopening
  • Inattention can cause us to lose our momentum in Church Reopening

These are all part of the factors that can cause resistance to our forward momentum in church Reopening!

Positive experiences and memories of the past can either hamper or build momentum in Church Reopening.
I heard about one couple who ran out of gas while traveling. It happened at an exit ramp, at the top of which was a gas station. The husband figured he could push the car up the ramp to the station, so he told his wife to get behind the steering wheel. He leaned into the back bumper with his shoulder, and pushed and pushed. It was really hard work, but eventually he pushed the car up to the pump at the gas station.

“Wow! That hill was steeper than I thought,” he breathlessly told his wife.

“I know,” she replied. “It was so steep I thought we might roll backward and I’d run you over, so I kept the brakes on.”

You can add fear to the list of things that keep us from building momentum in Church Reopening!

Intentional Steps Toward Building Momentum in Church Reopening
There are several steps we can take to build momentum in Reopening:

Understand it takes time and persistence to regrow a the public attendance in church!
Jesus said God’s kingdom grows in influence like yeast does in bread dough. Who wants to sit and watch bread rise? Get a life! Bread rises really slowly, but it does happen! Reversing negative momentum of being sequestered for such a long time, or getting positive momentum going from a dead stop, takes time and persistence.

I have observed as a pastor how an individual losing a mate is a life-wrenching event. The first year is often one in which the widow or widower makes little progress at rebuilding a life. Some remain immobilized for the remainder of their lives. There are those, however, who begin to join life again by little steps: starting back to church, visiting a friend in the hospital, or joining in the celebrations of the holidays and special family events once again.

Those churches who are reopening will gain momentum slowly. A churches small group ministry, missions, lay leadership development, and other key areas of church life also will appear to take a long time before there is significant growth. Just like the research that has shown a minister does not become truly effective as a leader until after seven years at any particular church. Reopening of churches will take a little time so be patient and keep pressing onward. Momentum in a church Reopening effort takes time to rebuild.

Just do something—almost anything.
Doing nothing will not change anything; in fact, it usually makes things worse. In Jesus’ story of the three men given the talents, the criticism of the man with one talent was that he did nothing. We can begin by just doing a little something, being obedient to God in little ways. After all, most of life’s greatest achievements are made up of small things.

Building positive momentum in a church reopening involves identifying small and manageable goals (or phases) that, with prayer and some effort, can be achieved. It requires moving beyond the momentum-killing idea that “We’ve never done it that way before.”

Build on Your Successes
Focus on your latest forward progress. Many of the Psalms were written by people in trouble who reviewed in their psalms the ways God had helped them in the past. This gave them the confidence to move forward and seize the future, and their psalms usually end on that confident note. One word of warning! Even those positive experiences and memories can either hamper or build momentum. A nostalgic wishing list can hurt even a church in the midst of successful reopening effort! Do not get buried in such but remember, God is the giver of good gifts.

Work on the serendipitous breakthroughs for Church Reopening
Albert Einstein realized what more Reopening leaders need to discern: that a major breakthrough can launch a church from good to great, so great church reopeners will always press for that significant breakthrough.

Reopening breakthroughs occur when we continually:

  1. Meet the needs of the community (which allows us to stay in the playing field);
  2. Improve ourselves and our church reopening team; and
  3. Succeed. It's a fact that there is no success like success.

Pushing for a Reopening breakthrough generates what John Maxwell describes as a leader's best friend - momentum. Momentum makes your work or your mission easier to accomplish than anything else.

He often tells national leaders that:

Momentum is worth three staff members. In fact, if some leaders would get rid of the right three staff members, they might instantly get some momentum.

When you have no momentum, things look worse than they really are. When you have momentum, it makes things look better than they ever seemed to be. You've got to push for the breakthrough in a church reopening effort. A Reopening effort must move from build-up to breakthrough, from good to great. Good is build-up; great is breaking through.

But there is a temptation that comes with a breakthrough in a Church Reopening and the momentum that comes with it.  The temptation is to ease up and celebrate the initial victory. Saying “we are back together is not enough.” Where is the church going from there?

You just kind of want to sit back and say, "Wow! Aren't we good? We’re back!" It just feels good to know you have achieved something even a little something. While it is OK to celebrate, we have to remember that the next play just might get us beat. Once you have that ball rolling, the compounding effect is so huge you don't ever want that ball to stop.

What do you do when the momentum stalls?
The time to ease up is when things have slowed down. When you do not have momentum and when you do not have a breakthrough. When the church Reopening train already has stopped - get off and take a rest. You were not going anywhere anyway! But until that time press forward and gain as much advancement as you possibly can.

When it gets moving again what do you do?
But once the train gets going again, don't get off. When you have got momentum and the breakthrough, it is dangerous to jump off. You could hurt yourself. You could hurt your Church Reopening efforts.

If you want to go from good efforts in Church Reopening to great achievements in Church Reopening, keep pushing toward a breakthrough. And when the church renewal momentum arrives, either because you are near the goal or because you have broken through, do not ease up. That is when you push the pedal to the metal.

Nine Ways to Create Momentum For Church Reopening
Legendary football coach Paul 'Bear' Bryant said, "Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you'll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don't have a plan. That's why it's is easy to beat most folks."  In a recent survey it was revealed that 79% of churches have little to no plans for outreach coming out of this pandemic.  This may be the reason why 85-90% of the churches in America are either plateaued or declining. Designing, executing and implementing outreach plans and strategies is one of the skills pastors need to create positive momentum in their churches reopening efforts.

Here are a couple insights that you can apply in planning your Church Reopening strategies:

  1. Develop a Church Reopening Team.

Too many pastors are so glad to have members back that they try to carry the burden all by themselves, which is an unbiblical notion.  Church Reopening is a team activity. Team building is one of the skills successful church reopeners need. I encourage church reopeners to use short-term task groups with a specific task along with a starting and ending point.  If you build a group for each of your major Church Reopening initiatives your team building skills would improve each time. Team building is a skill which is honed through the "learning by doing" process.

Remember in your Church Reopening journey that getting key influencers involved in the reopening process is key to building a new and positive momentum.

2. Develop a Reopening time line utilizing the rule of the ninety-day push.

To develop a good time line for reopening, start with the last date of the projected reopening and work backwards.  It is going to fully take about ninety days to get your church back operating as it had before the pandemic. This is what I call the "rule of the ninety-day push."

3. The Reopening Team should brainstorm ideas for delivering strong biblical content that addresses the heart language issues of your mission field.

Many pastors will struggle with the creative aspects of leading Reopening. The key is planning ahead.

4. Raise the spiritual temperature of the church reopening efforts.

It is a must to incorporate a church wide prayer project for before and during the church Reopening effort. One example: Call the church to "pray for five neighbors, for five minutes a day, for five weeks" before the church Reopening effort.  Another idea would be to mobilize the church to prayer walk your whole community before the church Reopening effort. You could also call the church to a season of prayer and fasting. One that I like is having the church pray for the area code they are in every day for the next three months.

5. The Reopening Team should brainstorm ideas for creating buzz throughout the church and throughout the community.

Work with your Church Reopening Team in thinking of ways to get the word out about your efforts towards the coming meeting of public worship.

6. Share the church Reopening theme throughout the church.

Creating a sense of synergy throughout the church during reopening is important. Getting every section of the church moving in the same direction during the Church Reopening effort is a momentum building experience that creates positive energy and good morale.  Take your Reopening theme and drive it throughout the church from the silver haired seniors to energetic youth, from your innovating singles to your toddlers and their families!

7. Develop church Reopening comeback events.

Creating opportunities for new guests who followed you during the online experience to connect relationally, as well as spiritually, is crucial to having a successful church Reopening journey. Planning some type of family friendly event is a great way to get people involved in serving for the first time and connecting relationally with others in the church. Offering entry level Bible studies within weeks of your special events is important in providing those next steps for those that are spiritually interested. This is also a great time to offer those who have distanced themselves from the church the opportunity to return to the church. Creating some comeback activities is a good way to re-involve past members and participants with a vigorous new vision for the future.

8. Recruit volunteers to fill needed ministry roles.

Doing special events targeted towards church reopening and evangelism is a great chance to recruit new volunteers for various tasks in the reopening effort. Utilizing a new group of workers must be focused around what you are doing in Reopening and not on the continual undergirding of dying programs. A great idea is to develop new small groups and discover home hosts for these new groups. The church has just experienced about ninety days of being a multi-site church and many like it so consider keeping some of what you have done for the last three months.

9. Drive your newly develop missional values deeper into the changing culture of your church during the Church Reopening efforts.

Remember, anytime you create a Church Reopening event it is an opportunity to drive your newly developed missional vision and values deeper into the lives of new and existing church participants. The values of evangelism, community, spiritual dependence and community transformation should come alive during the Church Reopening journey and provide opportunities for personal growth and corporate spiritual maturity.

Wrapping it up!

Remember the Muscle of Momentum.
It takes a great deal of energy to get a yacht moving across the water, but once it gets going its nearly unstoppable! That is the muscle of momentum in Church Reopening. The little personal play craft was able to get moving more quickly but the larger yacht is able to stand up to the rough seas while the smaller craft is thrown about by turbulence.  Momentum helps you with assimilating new people into the life of reopening work.  Momentum allows you to grow past levels that might otherwise stall your Reopening efforts. Momentum helps you create more momentum. Momentum is that little extra that allows a church to keep its focus on what is worthy and right for this hour without sinking at the most crucial time just at the beginning of the race. Church Reopeners need to learn to harness the muscles of momentum and discover that they will greatly assist your Reopening in moving across the starting line of growing a revived, renewed, and returned church with Gods leading.

Keep the wind in your Sails and press on! We are excited to see your church reopening to serve the community.

Tom Cheyney, Executive Director of Missions
Greater Orlando Baptist Association

You can connect with Dr. Tom at: [email protected]. or [email protected]

This article was first published on the Greater Orlando Baptist Association website.


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