About every three years we go through a bit of an identity crisis. Obviously, our mission and vision never change but our understanding of those things do get clearer over time as we walk them out.
The First Three Years
The first three years of any new church is interesting to say the least. In a lot of ways, your ministry is like a newborn child. It’s filled with limitless potential but a lot of what makes your church unique can’t be seen yet.
Most church plants start off trying their best to be the best church they can be and in the process they copy a lot from the churches and leaders they respect the most. There’s nothing wrong with this. You’ve got to start somewhere and following great models is a wise move.
The Three Year Mark
Something even more interesting happens around the three year mark though. You finally start to know who you are as a church. The pastor has likely found his unique preaching voice by this time and the church has started to establish it’s own way of doing things.
At this point, as a pastor, you’re going to start to feel a tension between what you’ve been doing and who you now are. Your systems, structures, logos, and classes are going to increasingly feel less and less representative of your church.
From Your Best Guess Then to Your Best Guess Now
The truth is that most of those things were designed before or just after your launch and they were your best guesses at that time. They worked for the initial season but you’re going to feel more and more like they represent you and your church less and less.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t really know who you are as a church until about the third year. At that point, you’ll know who God has sent to your church, who you are effectively reaching, and what makes your church’s DNA unique. This is all huge. In a very real way you’ve discovered what God had always planned for your church.
Again, this is all great but the systems, structures, logos, classes, and such, which provided such guidance earlier, will now feel like they are actually hemming you in. Like a child that has outgrown a pair of shoes, these supporting elements which once proved to be so helpful now seem ill fitting and sometimes painful.
Refining the Vision
You might be scared to make changes to these things for fear of losing sight of your original vision but the truth is that you now have a better grasp of the vision God has for your church and all those supporting elements should line up with that newfound understanding.
You’re not abandoning the vision you’re obeying it. In fact, if you refuse to make these refinements you’ll actually be walking away from your vision. You’ll be stuck in the vision of the past with it’s limited understanding.
To stay on course, you must tweak the all these things that support the vision of your church instead of making your vision support all these things.
The Three Year Itch
It doesn’t just stop there either. I’ve been in the ministry for over 20 years now and my experience has been that every three to four years we have to revamp all the supporting elements in the church. We have to do this because they no long reflect who we are and/or our understanding of who we are as a church.
For instance, that membership class I wrote when we started the church just doesn’t cut it anymore. It was effective and useful when we started but it’s no longer representative. I’ve had to revamp it no less than three times over the years. Each time I felt like I was saying goodbye to an old friend but it was clear that an updated class was needed.
This same pattern has held true in just about every area of our church.
Following Your Vision Means Refining Your Supporting Systems
I’ve shared all this to empower you to make the changes you’ve been feeling you need to make. When you get that three year itch to change things up, you’re not walking away from the initial vision of your church. You’re actually walking towards it’s fulfillment.