Years ago, I was part of an ongoing interracial gathering of ministers. In one session, a white minister posed a significant question to a Black pastor.
“Pastor, what do you believe is the key difference between white Baptists and Black Baptists?”
The pastor pondered the question a few moments and then said, “White Baptists emphasize being saved, and Black Baptists focus on walking with Jesus.”
Although that exchange was 45 years ago, it still impacts my thinking. It comes to mind when thinking about the difference between strong churches and soaring churches.
First, strong churches can be transactional. How many people have we baptized? How much has our attendance grown?
Soaring churches are transformational. What is the evidence that people connected with our congregation are becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus?
Second, strong churches emphasize church growth, and soaring churches emphasize Kingdom growth. Due to this distinction, strong churches are often larger than soaring churches.
Third, strong churches have a pithy vision statement the congregation memorizes. They frequently have a three-word motto that is regularly recited by leaders.
Soaring churches are captured by vision. Vision is second nature to them and is lived out in various ways. They often tell stories about where the vision was applied in ministry.
Fourth, strong churches place more emphasis on the church gathering for worship, programs and ministries. They are attractional in their focus and engage in missions activities.
Soaring churches focus on scattering into the community and world to encounter people who need the unconditional love of Jesus. They are highly missional in their focus. They deploy people into the world to encounter lost, unchurched and dechurched people.
Fifth, strong churches have excellent discipleship programs where people increase their biblical knowledge and obedience to God’s commands. Their calendar is full of events people attend.
Soaring churches have exceptional disciple-making processes that allow people grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. They live out their calling from God as they mature in their faith.
Sixth, strong churches have the best quality performance and proclamation worship in their area. They are known for great music and preaching.
In soaring churches, worship is both a corporate and an individual experience of our triune God. People often leave worship highly impacted, which means they were touched with spiritual refreshment for the coming week.
Seventh, strong churches are always recruiting people to fill volunteer slots. They need more people to help fill leadership roles for their programs. They hire more staff to cover things for which they have too few volunteers.
People proactively come forward in soaring churches to minister out of their heart-felt understanding of how God wants them to serve. Since programs and events are streamlined, there are lower staff numbers. They engage in what God is calling people to lead.
A strong church has good clarity about its mission, purpose, core values and vision. It has excellent programs, ministries and activities intensely focused on discipleship development and active church membership.
It is pursuing increased church growth through its empowering vision and strategic plans it continually updates. Its missions engagement and ministry innovation are significant in their impact.
Which is better?
Is it better for a church to be strong or soaring? Both are churches of great value to God. They approach the fulfillment of their mission and vision in unique ways.
My experience tells me strong and soaring churches together make up 80% of known Kingdom progress. The other 20% is made collectively by stumbling, struggling and spiritless churches.
Strong churches should be encouraged to network with other strong churches within the association and elsewhere. The association should offer to host these gatherings.
Urge strong churches to share their best practices, to work to bring leading influencers into the association to work with their churches and to allow time to gather for coaching by these influencers.
Strong churches should also be served by a strategic leadership coach to assist them in integrating the various systems of their churches for quality growth.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the third in a series of columns about a typology of five types of churches. The other three will be highlighted in future columns. See the overview column HERE.