Each of us has big things we want to accomplish. At the end of the day, some of us accomplish those things. Others do not. Why? It all boils down to alignment. Simply put, alignment is when our resources and activities support our specialty.
Seeking God for a Specialty
The first step in aligning your church is determining your specialty. It’s a given that all healthy churches are going to share Jesus’ message of salvation and help people grow spiritually. But every city has an abundance of churches. To be most effective for the kingdom, every church should carry out the spectrum of its biblical responsibilities, while being known for something specific (a specialty). This may mean your church is missional, attractional, discipling or something else. A senior leader’s first job is to ask God for a specialty and for Him to provide it. Wait on God to provide a specialty before moving forward with alignment.
What Areas Should Be Aligned?
Jim Putman, lead pastor at Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho, says church leaders should create alignment on the following fronts:
Alignment starts with agreeing on the basics of our faith. Elders, staff and key leaders need to know what the church believes and be able to explain it to those who ask. Senior leadership should be a hundred percent clear on this so that there is unity and healthy relationships within the church.
Once we are unified in what we believe, we have to agree on our specialty … the thing that will be our main focus. This priority is typically spelled out in a mission statement. You should be able to communicate your specialty in three to four words. For instance, Andy Stanley wants his church to be a place that “unchurched people love to attend.” At my church, we win when we are “disciples making disciple-makers.”
When we know where we want to go, it’s time to build the ship to take us there. This is done by aligning all church resources (money, staff time, events, buildings, communications, etc.) around the specialty. We create the structures that support our desired outcome.
Once the course is chosen and the ship is built, relationships amongst the crew become critical. God made us to be in relationship. He wants us reconciled to Him and to other people. We are to know where each other are spiritually. We are to help each other grow. We are to model transparency and authencity. The best place to do that is in relationship with each other. A church isn’t fully aligned until its people are.
Alignment Moves From Head, to Heart, to Hands
Putman also outlines how alignment moves within a church. First people hear of your specialty and understand it in their heads. Once people understand, it becomes part of who they are. They become passionate and the mission moves to their hearts. Finally they act. They move their hands in activity that supports the mission.
Alignment does not mean that everyone agrees on everything. It means that the essentials have been identified and everybody agrees to support them. The Christian Church has a great way of thinking about it: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”
The Church Alignment Test
Once our ship is aligned and we are on our journey, we should regularly perform a simple test. Ask, “What priorities are seen in my budget and my program calendar?” If these two things are aligned with your goal, you’re on the right course. If they don’t match your specialty, it’s time to evaluate and course correct.
What Not To Do
The opposite of being aligned is trying to be “all things to all people.” Watch out for this trap. It sounds so good. Some churches allow anyone with an idea to start a ministry. The volunteer leader is passionate and the cause is good. Inevitably, a few years later, the volunteer leader moves on. The ministry then falls on the church staff to continue. The cause is still a good one, but the ministry is past its prime. Nobody wants to be the one to shut it down. This is how churches end up with dozens of ineffective legacy ministries that zap focus and resources away from our main specialty.
Our Story of Church Alignment
Our church of 1,500 had been successful using the attractional model. One year our board noticed that while we were good at getting people to church and sharing Jesus with them, we weren’t as good as we wanted to be in growing people spiritually. The decision was made to change our church specialty from attractional to relational discipleship.
We knew the change would not be easy. Our congregation liked what we were doing with the attractional model. They didn’t necessarily see the need for change. The job was similar to turning a large ship. It would take time and consistent effort.
Our first job was to align the staff and elders. We went through books and attended conferences on relational discipleship. After several months of effort and growth, our senior leadership was on board. We were theologically and philosophically aligned. We then began work on the lay leadership and the congregation. After several more months, the congregation understood relational discipleship. They were also aligned theologically and philosophically. Then we began to turn our ship. We aligned the organization (budget, calendar and staff time) so that its resources shifted from attractional efforts to supporting relational discipleship.
Our ship is currently sailing in the new direction. We’ve made great progress in aligning around our new specialty, but some areas remain a challenge. The journey has been about changing our lifestyle. It’s been about a willingness to say “no” to some things so that we might say “yes” to others. We have given ourselves permission to make mistakes (so that we aren’t afraid to try new things). We aren’t going to get everything right the first time. Alignment takes patience and persistence. After you are aligned, the most important thing is being your specialty and doing it.
I believe we are at about the half-way point of changing our church culture. I am confident that we will reap the fruit of what we have sown in the years ahead.
It takes courage to align a church. Our congregations have varied expectations as to what is important. Not everyone is going to agree with our calling. There are so many “good” ministry opportunities out there. No matter what specialty we choose, we have to say “no” to a lot so we can focus on a little.
Since most pastors are wired as people pleasers, many find it easier to aquaise to people and their pet ministry proposals. Many like to cut the budget up into a thousand little pieces so everybody gets a slice of the pie. Yet, in doing so, they leave no meaningful “war chest” with which to carry out the church’s God-given specialty.
I challenge you to have the courage to focus. Our mission isn’t to please the flock, but to glorify God through obedience to His specific calling on our church.
The Joys of Alignment
Once the difficult job of aligning a church is done, there will be several terrific side effects:
Decisions get easier.
Either something fits your direction or it doesn’t. It is much easier to prioritize activities, hires and expenditures.
People better accept decisions when they know why they were made.
We simply explain why something either does—or doesn’t—fit our church mission.
We attract the people who want to be on mission with us.
When we are clear about our specific mission, we attract like-minded people. Those who aren’t onboard fall away with time. They are replaced by people who are enthusiastic about our specialty.
When each department is pulling together, the overall movement is made stronger. When we move a little in the same direction every day, we cover a lot of ground each year. Results come on top of results and give the church momentum.
Leaders do their job when they know what to specialize in and when they align their church operations with that mission. I challenge you to seek your specialty and to have the courage to focus on it. It’s well worth it.