As my interview with the Personnel Team of a church looking for an interim pastor came to an end, the chair turned to me and said, “We don’t want to waste the momentum we have right now.” When I asked for a broader explanation of what he meant by that, he said, “We are in such a good place as a church right now…solid finances…great staff…wonderful spirit. We don’t want to waste any of it.” What a great outlook that represents, and what a hopeful future portends for that church.

Momentum is an interesting concept. Apparently, momentum can go both ways…forward and backward. From personal experience, it is tougher to reverse a backward momentum than it is to advance a forward momentum. Thus, the gentleman’s wish to not waste the momentum.

But there is one crucial understanding about momentum that must not be overlooked. Jim Collins in his business book Good to Great talks about the “flywheel concept” and how a flywheel gains momentum the harder it is pushed. It takes great effort to turn it once, but soon that same effort yields five spins. Eventually, that same effort yields ten spins and then twenty and finally the wheel almost seems to spin by itself. Momentum.

People often ask for a simple explanation of how a church grew or some ministry flourished. They will ask “What was the one big thing that made this possible?” More often than not, there wasn’t one big thing. As much as we long for a silver bullet or a magical plan that will move us forward, there is something far more powerful when fully appropriated. Collins put it this way when talking about companies that made the transition from good to great:

“No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process-step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel-that adds up to sustained and spectacular results”

What happens in business translates, at least in this example, to churches also. If a church or a minister or a church staff seeks to constantly improve whatever it is they are doing, they have a chance for a good-to-great breakthrough. It is not necessarily the first effort that yields fruit or even the second; but eventually, with tenacity and perseverance, momentum occurs and a breakthrough in ministry is possible.

Momentum comes from repeated and consistent effort. Ministry is hard work, but it can also be rewarding work. A colleague of mine had made three or four efforts at a particular ministry that honestly did not yield the desired results. But that minister never gave up…never quit trying. In the end, working with a group of laity, she developed a new approach unlike anything previously attempted. The results were amazing! She was not smarter when the breakthrough came. She was not working harder when the ministry flourished. And there was no one thing that energized the process. The thing was that she never gave up the quest. She kept trying new ways to live out the ministry before her and the church.

It would have been so easy to get despondent when things did not work out. It would have been so easy to abandon hope in the face of continued disappointment. But because she never lost hope and because she kept on pushing, the flywheel effect finally kicked in and made all the difference in the world.

The lesson for me is that momentum does not generate itself. It is in doing the hard work of the church that we create momentum. The better we do…the better we do.

Where is the momentum in your congregation? What are the things in your church that God has called you to do that need your attention and your best efforts? Where is the energy generated through ministry at your church? By beginning to ask and answer these questions, we will know where and how to invest our lives in our churches. And we can take great comfort in knowing that all of our congregations, when led by the power of the Holy Spirit, can make the transition from good to great.

Don’t waste the momentum. It really is a wonderful gift.

Mike Queen
A native of West Virginia, Mike Queen, has served churches in North Carolina the last 36 years. Recently retired after twenty-five years as pastor at First Baptist Church in Wilmington, NC, Mike, along with his colleague Jayne Davis, has founded a ministry of encouragement called Hopeful Imagination to work with traditional churches dedicated to finding God’s way in a changing world. Mike and Bobbie, his wife of 45 years, live in Wilmington and they have continued their ministry by serving as interim pastor in other NC churches. He is a consultant for CHC and a co-coordinator for CHC-Carolinas.