5 Lessons on Building Momentum in Your Ministry

How to kick off ministry initiatives in healthy and sustainable ways


Written By : 
Joe Reed
Good leaders leave. Great leaders coordinate the transition.

It takes hard work and persistence to build momentum in ministry. If you want to help change people’s lives in healthy ways, you need to commit to a long-term strategy and keep at it.  In this post, we will discuss ways you can posture your leadership to help launch a ministry or business project and sustain it over the long haul.

Case Study : Small Town Music Scene Creates Big Time Waves

In the summer of my final college semester, I found myself working in a new church. When the church started, they had built a small coffee shop for the community. Everyone from the town came to this coffee shop. On Friday nights, I began to notice large groups of students filling the space. One of my co-workers behind the espresso bar began to introduce met to many of those students. I came to learn that there was quite a music scene in this little town, but not real venues to showcase the talent.

As we put our heads together together, we came up with the idea to host concert nights in the church sanctuary, which was down the hall from the cafe. The owners of the cafe agreed and we were off to the races.

As with anything you attempt to start, these concert nights did not go off without a few glitches. We figured out how to make the weekly events run more smoothly. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament with space. Luckily we had gotten to know some of the other business owners and church leaders in the community. We were able to work out arrangements with the owner of an old movie theater to host shows once a month there. This increased our seating capacity by hundreds... which we were quick to fill.

It was CRAZY. We had no idea what we were doing. We learned a ton about building momentum. We all burned out and things started to fall apart. Because of this, I have learned what it takes to sustain momentum over the long haul.

Keys To Building Ministry Momentum

I am going to talk about a few things that I wish we had done when we were in our first stages. We were doing a lot of things right at that time, but we could have done a better job.

Lesson 1: Momentum Picks Up With the Third Movers

I have learned through many start-up endeavors that my role as a leader is that of a catalyst. In science, a catalyst is an agent that sparks the initiation of a change. Your role is to recognize that God is moving and begin to move your life towards that. You are the second mover in God's movement. This can feel isolating. Many people will question your motivations and in some cases, your sanity. My encouragement to you is to sit in the presence of God, receive clarity in how God is moving, and join that. Recognize that those in your organization who will join you first are the leaders. Your role is to serve them.

In my case, the group of students that I began interacting with were the ones that lead this project.

  • God is the first mover. God was moving in the hearts of students. They felt empowered to do something in response once they saw it.
  • Leader as the second mover. All I could do is recognize God's movement, encourage others to see it, and empower them to do something to join God.
  • Third movers build inertia. Those handful of students were the ones that started the process. If they had not seen the opportunity, nothing would have happened. It would have remained "an interesting idea I once had". The students were the champions.

Lesson 2: Testimony From the First Wave Builds Faith for the Following Waves

Our first few weeks of the concert night were small. Friends of the band were all that showed up. At this moment, it felt like a failed project. My hope was that this would be an "overnight success". I learned was that perseverance and regular change of our plans was going to be required. It is hard work to cultivate momentum in a ministry (or business) project.

The first group of students decided this was the right thing to do for their community. They did not lose heart. Their motivations were to create a welcoming and safe environment for their peers. They had conversations throughout the week that built excitement. More students began to come out.

It was their testimony that built the imagination of others. Those that came in our following weeks would be the ones that would make the space even more exciting to be part of.

Lesson 3: The Leaders You Need Are Not the Leaders You Have

This was a hard lesson for me to reflect on. Our first leaders were not the ones that carried things forward to the end. In fact, by the end of the time, I was not even attending the events anymore. I recognized that each stage of building requires different people to take the lead. Studying social movements throughout history, I have noticed patterns that repeat.  Each stage is led by a certain profile of a leader.

  • The Starters - That first group of students had energy and a genuine carefree attitude. They were not afraid of hard work and potential failure. They did not think they would fail. They were quick to change tactics when their ultimate goals were in jeopardy. And they became board when things started to become routine.
  • The Refiners - This group of people usually sit back to watch the starters get something going. They can identify several ways to make something run more smoothly. They differ from the "shiners" in that they have patience for the "starter" type person. They like being part of the second wave of things. They are a very important group of people to identify as you build your second wave of momentum.
  • The Shiners - This group has the ability to build capacity in things. They move beyond making the system better. They make it shine. They find bigger headline bands to come and play drawing even larger crowds. One thing I have noticed is that this profile and the "starter" profile is that they tend not to get along very well. These two profiles are polar opposites. While one group is always looking to start the next thing, the other group is busy making the old thing better.
  • The Institutionalizers - You see this throughout several movements in history. What has begun to happen is so important that it becomes institutionalized. I notice this more in the Church work that I do than I did with this concert night project. The change that took years to come to has now become familiar and comfortable. When this happens, people begin to make everything formal. Formalizing things may be what required. It is important to recognize that it will also make it difficult to adjust in the future.

Lesson 4: Learn How to Linger

Leading new endeavors is challenging. I have noticed that many leaders become impatient in the early stages of a new project. Their impatience threatens the building process required for the project to succeed. I have learned there are seasons we need to stop building. Leaders need to linger with the people in the season they find themselves in. They need to pay attention to what is going on in the hearts of people before they move forward.

Lesson 5: Give Leaders the Keys to the Building (and Go Home to Your Spouse)

The leadership principle is "good leaders leave". In those middle stages where momentum was starting to pick up, there were weeks that I left early. I handed the keys to one of the other leaders, patted them on the back and took off. Momentum took off when I started doing this more. At the time, I was upset that things were better when I left. What did that say about me and my worth? In hindsight, I realize that I had created a necessary leadership vacuum for others to step up.

Good leaders leave. Great leaders coordinate the transition.

If I could do this chapter of life over again, I would have been more intentional with how I left. I left because I was tired. I was not paying attention to leadership development. If I had the opportunity to do things over, I would have debriefed the team more effectively. I would have taken the time to help them plan the next event without me. They would have developed better systems had I done that, and more people would have been served.

I missed that opportunity because I did not have that insight. This ministry project shut down. They are not failures. Westerners have this weird obsession with the longevity of things. Not all things need to keep going. Churches and businesses close all the time. That is not a bad thing. God used them for seasons to do certain things in the hearts of people and they were no longer needed. We will explore this in others posts. For now, I encourage you with a few closing thoughts.

What stage are you in, and what will you do?

Are you beginning to think about starting a new project? Have you been working at something for a long time and feel stuck? What is the next step you will take as you read this? Who do you know that might enjoy this conversation?

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