When is the last time you noticed a vibration in your car?  

I’m not a car guy.  If my car starts and gets me where I need to go I might not notice some small things that need fixing. When I’m driving down the road and my car starts to shake, however, that typically will get my attention.  

“So what is it?” I asked Karl, our trusty mechanic. “Is my car about to explode?”  

“Well the bad news is that this is a dangerous issue, but the good news is there’s actually nothing broken and it won’t cost you that much to fix this. The problem is that your tires are just poorly aligned,” he said.  

A couple of hours and a relatively low auto repair bill later, I was back on my way, problem solved. 

When is the last time you noticed a vibration in your church?

We get a lot of requests for different kinds of help at the Center for Healthy Churches.  

  1. “Our church is declining in attendance…help!” 
  2. “Our church is in conflict…help!” 
  3. “We’re searching for a Senior Pastor…help!” 
  4. “We want to make a difference in our community…help!”

At first glance those requests for help might strike as you very different. In every single case, however, they share a common need that will help that church move readily into a vibrant future—alignment.  

We talk about four different aspects of congregational alignment at CHC: staff, structures, facilities, and finances. In a car you want all four wheels to be pointing in the exact same direction and that’s also true for churches. 

Take the problem of declining attendance. Nine of out ten churches in the United States are plateaued or declining.  In most of those churches, that is fostering huge anxiety.  And yet very few of those churches are finding ways to align all the various aspects of their church’s identity with their desire for growth.  The composition of their budgets, structures, facilities, and staff are largely the same as they’ve been for decades despite the enormous cultural changes around them.  

But if your desires for growth aren’t in alignment with the way you’re organized, then the result you’re going to be left with is this—conflict.  Either the emotional conflict of a minister or staff team who believe they’re supposed to be growing as church but aren’t or the congregational conflict that arises when there is a highly desired outcome (in this case, growth) but no real success in achieving that outcome.  People want their church to grow but don’t often understand that making that happen requires more than just a decent website and a few hours a week of the Pastor’s time. In a day and time where fewer and fewer people place a high value on God, faith, and church it will typically require a far greater degree of congregational alignment to reach new people than many of our congregations currently experience.  

That is not to say, however, that numerical growth should be your congregation’s highest priority.  There are any number of things you might focus on which would be greatly enhanced by a higher degree of alignment.  Does your church want to help the poor?  Does your church want to help people experience the presence of God through silence and solitude?  Maybe your church wants to engage deeply in global missions.  Every single one of those goals is a worthy focus for a congregation, but they all beg the exact same question—is your church aligned to achieve those goals?  Or are you just living with the incessant vibrations that come from a hope that’s out of alignment with the reality of your budget and structures or worse, out of alignment with the energy and engagement of both your staff and lay leadership. 

But here’s the good news—this is a problem that can be fixed.  There’s nothing wrong with your church that can’t be fixed by what’s right with your church.  The healthiest congregations learn to align their programs, budgets, and leadership structures (and often even their facilities) with the most dynamic elements in their core DNA.  

Ironically, some of the congregations who might not necessarily consider numerical growth as a major aspect of their identity, still end up experiencing some measure of growth when they align themselves in this way.  When congregations are well aligned, passion and creativity flow, creating a natural magnetism that is almost always far more effective at drawing people in, than growth strategies born out of a desire for institutional survival. 

So what are you waiting for?  That vibration isn’t going to take care of itself.  Help your church find a better alignment. It will cost you something, but compared to the much higher cost of ministerial burnout, congregational conflict, and the dis-engagement of Christians in the work of the Kingdom, it’s a small price to pay. 

Matt Cook
Dr. Cook joins the Center as a full time Assistant Director after having
served local congregations for more than twenty-five years with nearly twenty years as Senior Pastor in churches in Texas, Arkansas, and North Carolina.He is completed his undergraduate degree at Samford and his M.Div and Ph.D. (Church History) at Baylor University. He has been highly involved in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on a both the state and national level, having served on the Coordinating Councils of both Texas and Arkansas, as well as having served as the Moderator of CBF National. He was also the founding conveyor of Current, CBF’s young leaders network. He can be reached at mattc@chchurches.org.