What makes your church move?
"It can’t be done." That’s what they told John Ericsson when he first began working on a new way to propel boats over the water in 1835. Boats had moved on wind for centuries, and lately steam powered paddle boats had taken over. Not many saw the need for Ericsson’s invention, a screw turned propeller. And even fewer than that believed that it would work on large boats.
By 1839 Ericsson had come a long way with his new invention, and soon gained fame as the designer of the US Navy’s first screw propelled warship, the USS Princeton. It defied belief that the Princeton could beat other ships in a race. At over 160 feet long it seemed incredible that such a small propeller could move that fast. Now almost every boat from little fishing dinghies with trolling motors, big fancy bass boats, Cruise ships, and battleships all are propelled the same way. The internal engine turns the rods which in turn moves the propeller, and that motion moves the boat almost effortlessly across the water.
No matter how big the boat is, the propeller is always small in comparison to it. But this small piece of machinery becomes the means by which the ship moves forward. It doesn’t matter how deep the water or what kind of storm the boat finds itself in, if the propeller is working correctly then the boat will be moving.
We know of course that small things make a difference in the lives of Christians and churches. James makes this point when comparing the power of the tongue to a rudder that steers a boat. Yet there is something more powerful that can not only steer your church but serve as the power to help it move forward: the dreams of your church.
Although it goes by all sorts of names, like vision, dreams, goals, or ideas, the basic principle is the same. Your church is driven forward by what it believes it can become. Some churches dream of having the best buildings in town, others about the best ministries. Some churches only dream of making it to another week, while others dream of making a difference in the community and helping others. Whatever the dream or vision of your church is, it serves as the propeller for moving it forward. In his classic book on church revitalization Robert Dale writes that “No church can minister effectively until it identifies it’s unique ministry dream, a possible dream, and lives it out!”
When a church has a dream of being a comfortable place for it’s members, it will structure it’s committees, budget, and staff around doing just that. That church will make sure that members are always at ease and have things just the way they want them, even if it leads to the decline of the church. The church that dreams of comfort will always find a way to have it, and the lost community around them will not stand in their way. Their dream of having things how they please will always move them forward, even if it moves them right into the grave. In the same way a church that dreams of reaching their community, funding ministries, and seeing the lost saved will find a way to do it as well.
A quick way to find out your church’s dream is to look at what they are on their way to becoming. A church’s dream can be seen by what they do, not what they say. A godly dream that focuses on what a church can be in it’s community will be the propeller that moves a church forward in it’s ministry and mission. It doesn’t have to be a big grand dream to be the next Antioch that sends out Paul and Barnabas. To have a dream for the future a church only needs to look to become something more than what it is.
That could mean starting a bus ministry to reach kids in the community, adjusting the way they do things in order to reach more families, or changing the budget to spend more on missions and evangelism. If a church has a dream to be more than it is now, that dream will be the propeller that moves it forward. No matter how big or small, that dream can push a church forward to grow in salvations, baptisms, and kingdom impact.
But if a church’s dream is not about what it can be in the future but what it used to be in the past, then that dream becomes an anchor weighing them down, not a propeller moving them forward. Every church has a dream, but many churches only dream of returning to the glory days of the past and to what they once were. The dreams of the past become so heavy that a church is weighed down by them, unable to move forward to their future because they are burdened by the past.
When a church can get a dream for the future and what God might do in them and through them, that dream will always move them forward. Much like a ship moved forward by a propeller engine, the dream of a church should move them forward slowly and methodically towards achieving that dream. Make sure and note that a propeller is not a jet engine. Many pastors at churches in need of revitalization want a church to grow quick and fast. Stories abound of quick turnarounds, of leaders and churches who promise that if you follow their methods your church can do the same thing. Just because a church has a dream does not mean everything will change overnight.
Once a church finds their dream, they must do the work of putting it into action. Dreams move the church forward when a committee changes the budget to fund missions more, when the church votes to remodel facilities to better reach the community, and when members consistently read their bible, pray for the lost, and volunteer to serve where needed. Achieving the dream happens in big ways and small ways, but each of them moves the church forward towards it’s goals.
A church is always moving, even if it seems stuck in a rut. You might think your church hasn’t changed in years, but a church is always moving towards life or towards death through its choices and actions. When a pastor gives a church a vision of God and the gospel, and when a church then shapes their dream to be more than what they are, any church can start moving towards health. Make sure that your church’s dream is moving them forward to what God wants them to be. When a church has a dream big enough to see what God wants them to be, not only what they were in the past, any church can find new life again. When the members dream of expanding God’s kingdom in the future and not just maintaining the present, the church will always continue to move forward to be just what God wants them to be.