Churches that grow quite rapidly get a lot of press. They’re rare. I love studying such churches, and have no problem with anyone growing rapidly or “getting press” as a result. However, a much better, doable way to build a healthy church over the long haul is the through what Jim Collins and Morten Hansen call the 20-mile march.
It’s a hiking concept they illustrate beautifully in the book. To simplify, if you’re heading out on a monstrous hike across the U.S., your best chance of success on schedule is to hike the 20 miles per day, resisting the urge to hike less or more. Hike 20 miles on the hilly, snowy days. Hike 20 miles on days with perfect weather whne one could hike further. Absolutely complete 20 miles, and no more, every day. This keeps one from either falling behind causing one to need to overexert oneself to catch up or burning up energy/resources that may be needed later. There is a time to stretch, but that may be when the elements make the day’s 20-mile march nearly impossible.
Collins and Hansen write: “The 20 Mile March is more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track. The 20 Mile March creates two types of self-imposed discomfort: (1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and (2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions.” (45)
Collins and Hansen again: “…if you want to achieve consistent performance, you need both parts of a 20 Mile March: a lower bound and an upper bound, a hurdle that you jump over and a ceiling that you will not rise above, the ambition to achieve and the self-control to hold back.” (44)
One of the reasons I like to the 20-mile march concept for churches is that it hinges on faithfulness, rather than factors beyond our control–location, money, star power of the pastor, etc. If churches and their leaders focused on complete their 20-mile march each year, at least two things would happen:
1) Churches would head down fewer rabbit trails and avoid overextending themselves financially and otherwise.
2) More churches on the whole would experience at least stability and likely growth.
You see, at the same time some churches don’t want to be limited to 20 miles a day, others don’t want to have to move much on any day. The 20-mile march spurs the idle or stuck, and brings at least some discipline to the mustangs. Some might say, “We can hike further than that!” Maybe. But, Collins and Hansen’s analysis of thousands of organizations would suggest it’s likely unanticipated factors will cause major hardship down the road.
Over time, the tortoise beats the hare…every time. Though, Collins and Hansen aren’t suggesting anyone be a tortoise.
Figure out where you want to go. Then, discern what a 20-mile march looks like for your church. Then, maybe a 5-year plan looks like the completion of 5, 20-mile marches rather than an amorphous blob of futuristic stuff.