I was surprised.  Driving into an intersection with a 4-way stop at one of Springfield, Missouri’s most notorious traffic bottlenecks, cars were moving ahead smoothly.  What was going on?  Then, I saw something new.  A roundabout!

A traffic roundabout is a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a central island.  With entrances and exits but without stop lights or traffic signals, drivers slow down, yield to others, move together in the same direction, and find their lanes easily in roundabouts.  Traffic moves ahead steadily and easily.  No wonder some roundabouts are called “calming circles.”

Compared to traditional stop-and-go intersections, roundabouts increase traffic capacity by 30-50%, a huge improvement.  What can churches learn about maintaining ministry momentum from roundabouts?

Maximizing Ministry Momentum

Ideally and theologically, congregations are God’s heavenly colonies on earth, witnessing and ministering actively.  But, practically and operationally, congregations can become 4-way stops where movement is blocked and momentum is stymied.  At ministry intersections where everything brakes to a complete halt, congregations stop, miss ministry opportunities, and are slow to regain their forward motion.
What if congregations functioned more like roundabouts than 4-way stops?  What if a congregation’s key leaders yielded to the larger flow of ministries and traveled into the future together?  If your church operated like a roundabout, how would ministry pick up speed and move ahead more easily?

Leaders on the Move

Let’s explore our mixes of ministry leaders, those people who accelerate or slow congregational progress.  How would “center” leaders, “edge” leaders, and “bridge” leaders best approach ministry roundabouts together?

“Center” leaders traditionally anchor congregation’s core callings.  Importantly, they tend ministry flames and preserve the congregation’s redemption stories.  But, sometimes they also guard crossings, insist too zealously on rules, and withhold permission to move ahead.

“Edge” leaders usually inhabit the congregation’s margins, seeing “next” ministries first.  Crucially, as early adopters of innovations, edge leaders are their congregation’s eager explorers and first drafters of new ministry chapters.  But, sometimes they lose patience with slower paces of action, become congregational pests, and leave if changes aren’t made in short order.

“Bridge” leaders are the connectors and living links between congregation’s centers and edges.   Vitally, they serve as reporters of ministry’s new possibilities, hosts of discernment conversations, and cultivators of congregational grapevines.  But, sometimes they ally with one faction over the other, lose their neutrality, and politicize their congregation’s processes.

But, when “center,” “edge,” and “bridge” leaders navigate roundabouts together, the congregation doesn’t get stuck and its ministries move forward smoothly.  “Center” leaders guide the congregation’s progress toward central missions from valued traditions and keep ministries moving around the roundabout in the same direction.  “Edge” leaders point to “traditioned innovation,” driving toward exits that lead from where we are now to new and promising ministry ventures.  “Bridge” leaders manage entrances to the roundabout, keeping “Center” and “Edge” leaders in conversation and steering toward the congregation’s next steps in ministry.

Creating New Congregational Traffic Patterns

How can we create smoother operational flow patterns in our congregations?  You can create roundabouts by…

MAJORING ON NEIGHBORLINESS INSIDE AND BEYOND OUR CONGREGATIONS —

The Great Commandment (Matthew 22:38-40) reminds us that community is basic for Christian living.   We’re on our faith pilgrimages together.  Look for ministry experiences and local mission projects that enrich fellowship, collaboration, and respect.  Sweating together fosters unity.

CULTIVATING BALANCE AND CONTINUITY AMONG CONGREGATIONAL LEADER TEAMS —

Leader diversity strengthens congregations’ clergy, lay teams, and committees.  Ideally, teams have three clusters of leaders — those who are doing the jobs, those who are preparing to step into responsibility next, and those who have already done the jobs and are coaching the other two groups.  Our best ministry teams include “Now” and “New” leaders in the game, “Next” leaders on the bench, and “Near” leaders with experience.  Blend them, and let them teach and support each other with different skills and generational perspectives.

SIMPLIFYING AND STREAMLINING CONGREGATIONAL STRUCTURES —

Hierarchies are a legacy of the fading Industrial Age’s top-heavy structures.  Consequently, many congregations have structured work groups with nothing much to do.  Prune deadwood, and travel lighter.

Green Lights Ahead

As congregational leaders, look for green light ministry roundabouts at every opportunity.  Reduce as many 4-way stops as you safely can.  Slow, yield, and move into your congregation’s best futures together.

Bob Dale
Robert (Bob) Dale, is an Oklahoma Baptist University graduate and former assistant executive director of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. He is a noted author, consultant and coach has been a thought-leader in the world of congregations as they engage the question of health and vibrancy for nearly 50 years. Following a distinguished career as a pastor, seminary professor and denominational leader, Bob now turns his focus toward coaching. In that role, he is helping guide a generation of clergy and laity toward a healthier understanding of leadership and maturity. He is also a consultant for CHC.