Fifteen pounds down since January 1, 2021. Not too bad for a guy who is pushing 50! But the scale is NOT the whole story. I can beat my dog to the top of the stairs. Win! Yesterday, I ran for forty-five minutes straight without regretting the cookie treat at lunchtime. No regrets! The notch in my belt just moved one position. New belt soon! These small wins point my mind and my whole self to feel the joys of accomplishment. The wins are a psychological reminder that all the hard work pays off and serves as an encouragement to press on.
Every church has psychology. I say it often: Every church instinctively knows what she should be accomplishing. Collectively, the people of Jesus are looking for signs and markers to indicate that they are completing the mission of Christ. However, often a church gets stuck with "love for a program or ministry" over "love for the mission."
Though many ministries in a church can help the congregants with a sense of momentum, a few triggers, especially in a revitalization effort, allow the church to soar to new heights. Indeed, when these psychological "pings" happen in a church of any size, God's people will rejoice and follow the direction of the leadership. The believers will be looking for "More-Mentum."
What are the triggers? Glad you asked:
- Baptisms. When baptizing a believer, I almost always say, "My view from this baptistery is the best view in this church." Your people will agree. Salvations and baptisms will build momentum like nothing else. I know, I know. It is awkward to baptize in a mask. But think about it. Covid-19 has given you and your church a fantastic possibility, a clean slate. New believers have been waiting for the opportunity to be associated with Christ through the beautiful sacrament of baptism. You must address the need for baptism in your congregation when you see at least fifty percent of the people attend again.
Here are some tips to keep the baptism momentum going:
- I know it is tempting to baptize four people on one Sunday. Instead, spread those baptisms out as best you can. Early in my ministry, I baptized at least one person 29 weeks in a row. The church was devastated when I announced we did not have anyone for week 30. Nothing causes celebration in a church like a baptism. Capitalize on every baptism.
- Preach on baptism once per year. Choose a logical date and set it to infinity on your phone. Call upon people to be baptized. Provide an easy way for them to sign up for baptism. "Go to the baptism sign-up location in the foyer…." is a must for this special day. Additionally, text or email a link the following day for people to sign up online.
After I preached on baptism once, a new believer went home and, while washing the dishes, filled his hands with water and poured it over his head. He asked the Lord, "Is that enough?" The Lord told him, "be baptized next Sunday." He was!
- Invite the spiritual leader of the family to baptize his or her family members.. I think the single most Spirit-filled baptism in my twenty-nine years of "dunking" people was when I baptized a husband who turned around and baptized his wife. The church exploded in worship.
- Comb your attendance records and see who has never been baptized. Call them and discuss baptism.
- In everyday conversations with your church, ask them to tell you about their baptism. Honestly, before the year 2000, most Baptist churches simply received new members when they "walked the aisle." Therefore, many people were never asked. You will discover some people who were never baptized, were baptized as infants, or have not been baptized by immersion. Remember that baptism is an issue of discipleship. It might take some time before they agree to be baptized.
- Finally, shoot a baptism video a few weeks before you baptize someone. Your iPhone can even do the trick. You do not need fancy equipment. Have the new believer practice their testimony. Keep it simple: life before Christ, how they came to Christ, and what new life in Christ is like for them. Show the video before you perform the baptism.
- New members. In addition to new members by baptism, you will undoubtedly gain new members who move into the community or transfer their membership. When coaching young pastors, I often say, "If you focus on God's Kingdom, God will grow your church." Encourage every new member. Get to know, or be sure that the appropriate staff member knows, each member. Create a strong assimilation strategy that addresses the church's mission, vision, and core doctrines, at a minimum. One of the best ways to gain new members that build momentum is to see new people in the community join your church. Services exist that can help you locate new people in your community. But the best thing you can do to help new people in your community become part of your church is to have a stellar guest services ministry. Make the first impression really count.
Rather than call the new members names from the stage, take a high-quality photo, a more recent iPhone and a nice backdrop will work great, and introduce the families from the stage, you guessed it, one family per Sunday.
- Missional engagement. Maybe your church has lost its drive to reach the lost. Perhaps they have bought into a magic bullet of a programmatic ministry. I watched the Lord resurrect (He does that, you know) a church from $1.06 and 25 people to a healthy, vibrant, growing church of 400 plus monthly attendees. Often, people ask, "how did that happen?" While there were many factors, one of the main factors was missional engagement. We sent people to Germany for evangelistic baseball camp ministry, El Salvador for medical, construction, and water ministries, Long Island for community ministry, and Austin for homeless ministry. The members of the church told their stories of life change from the stage. We told the story of our Salvadorian bus driver who came to Christ! We even interviewed a new German believer over Skype who received the Lord at a baseball camp. Funny thing: the more we did gospel-rich missions, the more guests just showed up at the church. Go figure!
Bottom line: while the church was preparing to reach the community, we reached people elsewhere and talked about it a lot! In fact, reaching people elsewhere helped us reach people in our region.
At the end of each mission experience, I or someone appointed gave what became known as "the speech" to the short-term mission volunteers. Basically, "these have been special days. We have bonded together. We have seen God do great things. We have broken bread and poured out wine. We have shared the gospel. But today is not a special day. Today is an 'every day.' You ARE a missionary. Go home and live your life on the mission just as if you were still in El Salvador." They did!
A church instinctively knows who she is supposed to be and what she is supposed to do. When she drifts from the Great Commission, often her morale, her psychology, is low. The church begins to take her cues of health from programs and "collecting" people rather than advancing the mission and sending God's people. And your church is just one step away from the end when the congregation only takes her cues from past ministries.
Watch God build a new future. Jump into the river of the Great Commission. Celebrate the accomplishment of the mission at every turn and on a weekly basis. You will find More-mentum.
Dr. Jonathan L. Smith is the statewide Church Health Strategist for Texas Baptists. A twenty-nine-year veteran of preaching and pastoring, his calling is to equip pastors and lay leaders to grow God's Kingdom. Dr. Smith holds degrees in Christianity and Speech from Houston Baptist University, a Masters degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D.Min from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.