Oh, That Tipping Point — in Ministry

Kudos to Malcolm Gladwell for giving us a renewed appreciation for the phrase The Tipping Point, thanks in part to his book which graces my shelves of the same title. No, I don’t refer to Gladwell’s book my shelves, which does not exist (as far as this blogger knows), but rather his book The Tipping Point, which the smartest Malcolm I know says and which I place in a classy block quote:

the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable

Let me make a few contextualizing ruminations before we explore the unstoppable. First we must remember the old saying that “Change is inevitable; growth is optional”, which, if I am remembering the inspirational poster correctly – you know, the one with the eagle picking up a snake in its mighty talons while a bear grabs the majestic eagle with its honey-stucken paws – means that we are always changing but not necessecarily growing. The organizational ramifications are tremendous, both for churches and for bears. For churches, it means that rearranging things doesn’t mean that we’re doing the right thing and growing per se; we could just be pushing deck chairs around on the Titanic. It’s still going to sink and Leonardo DiCaprio will still be around, both frightening propositions. As for the bear, well, he’d just better make sure to handle that eagle carefully since there is an attached snake involved.

Secondly we must remember that leaders are charged with the responsibility of building and maintaining momentum. No one else really wants to do this, mostly because it’s hard work and doesn’t seem all that glamorous. And they’re right. But you, well, you’re called to lead this thing, and part of your leadership is the forward momentum of your organization. Leaders care about momentum like bears care about honey; like the Titanic is afraid of glaciers. Leadership momentum is a big deal.

Two elements: change (inevitable) and momentum (mandatory). Remember the optional element — growth. We want momentum that brings about growth. Enter the tipping point — in ministry.

I have experienced a few tipping points in ministry, all of which have brought exponential results and — best of all — people coming to Christ.

  • From We’ve Always Done This to We Do This. It’s not worded well, but I hope you get the point. The first years in a ministry location always has, at least to some degree, history working both for and against momentum. While zillions of words (words like hyperbole) have been written about how “We’ve always done it this way” stops ministry momentum, I will say that there comes a tipping point where you’ve served well while slowly shaping your organization, where people stop comparing what you’re doing to what we’ve done and rather to what we do. Oh, and by the way — “what we do / we do this” is based on the mission/vision/strategy of ministry that you bring to the table. One could spend years working toward a new environment and feel frustrated. Then, one day… it’s the new normal. And people get it. And its good.
  • From Confused Commitment to Confident Commitment. I’ve seen volunteers who are committed, thank the Lord, but may not fully comprehend why we’re going a certain direction, changing this, moving that, etc. Yet they remain committed (albeit slightly confused as to why). Their stick-to-it-ness pays off, though, because there comes a tipping point in ministry where people are confident with the direction and are full speed ahead in their commitment. This changes the ethos of a ministry quite a bit because not only are your volunteers serving with more gusto, they are also talking it up in their circles, praying with the vision and supporting you in ways you may not ever realize. This is the Body of Christ becoming untied and confident in the calling and vision that you, the leader, have articulated.
  • From Single Teeter to Playground. This is where the tipping point in ministry multiplies, because what happens on the teeter totters gets spread to the merry go round, swing set, slide and yes, even the curly slide that only the big kids can go on. Suddenly, people are noticing that there is a new momentum that is based on growth and not just change. If a single ministry in a church experiences tipping points, often this will make other ministries pick up steam by proxy alone. Of course, this relies on the readiness of the other leaders, but people love a success story and usually want to align themselves with it. One example that immediately comes to mind is Willow Creek Church in Chicago, Illinois. Bill Hybels saw something and assembled a team, which led to a group, which led to a small mob of Chicagoans drinking coffee from Dr. B’s and sitting in one of the coolest theaters ever. Ever. There was a tipping point at one teeter totter which led to other churches saying “Hey — can we do something like that?”. Answer: yes. Tipping point multiplication. It can happen on almost any scale.
  • And here’s what I’ve learned: reaching a tipping point where momentum leads to growth takes time, commitment, prayer, faithfulness, and courage. Just when you thought it would never happen, it does. It may not be instant (as in SNAP) but it could be quick (as in 6 months). Stay strong! Keep casting vision and nudging your people past the fulcrum. Tippity-do-dah.

    One comment

    1. Very thought provoking, Adam. I’m officially a fan.

      On another note, my favorite Malcomb Gladwell book is “Outliers”. Interestingly enough, The Tipping Point was my least favorite out of Outliers, Tipping Point, and Blink. But nevertheless, I still enjoyed it.

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