I can still recall that magical moment when an automobile levitated right before my eyes. I was walking with my parents down a dimly lit sidewalk in Italy, when the sound of laughter and bantering among a group of men gathered on the street corner caught my attention. They swarmed around a small Austin Mini that was wedged between two vehicles, and at the sound of one man's thunderous voice, the automobile was raised into the air and then effortlessly carried into the middle of the street. Then, without hesitation, the man giving audible instructions jumped into the driver's seat. His friends found their respective places in the car, and they drove off into the night.
As a young, impressionable child witnessing this demonstration of brute strength and raw power, it ignited a passion in me to become like these men one day. It was not necessarily their physical strength that intrigued me the most, but the incredible ease and confidence with which this small group of men tackled what seemed like an insurmountable task. We see this type of power displayed in words like teamwork, cooperation, and unity. For me, the word that captures this type of human-generated power best is alignment.
a• lign• ment or a• line• ment (n)
- The arrangement of something in a straight line or in an orderly position relative to something else;
- The correct position or positioning of different components relative to one another, so that they perform properly;
- Support for, or a political alliance with, a particular person, group, or point of view;
- A ground plan, especially one showing the course of a road or railroad track.
We recognize the power of alignment whenever a group of people is willing to divest themselves of self-determined outcomes and invest their talents, will, and energy in a common direction in order to accomplish a common goal. Simply put, if your goal is to make disciples that multiply ministry through relationships, then you will want to harness the power of alignment in your church.
But this does not necessarily mean that everyone attending your church on Sundays will be forever locked into a sermon-based small group series like 40 Days of Purpose. There are options.
In our church family, for example, we've been able to extract some of the principles and lessons learned from sermon-based small group series and combine them with an annual ministry rhythm that is informed by our common church culture. This combination has proven effective to move our entire church family forward in a common direction, while also providing seasons of flexibility for individuals and small groups to customize their own spiritual growth pathway.
Common Church Culture
Culture is defined as the prevailing attitudes and behavior that characterize the functions of a group or organization. Some churches borrow a model of ministry from another church that they can adapt and implement within their own congregation in order to accomplish their mission, and there are many good ministry models available that will provide a framework for effective ministry.
However, when you develop a biblically based church culture as the basis for all your organizational priorities, then you provide each member of your church family with a common set of empowering principles for ministry. Individuals and small groups now have a metric for which they can measure their effectiveness and periodically gauge their spiritual growth. Placing the development of a church culture in priority over the adherence to a particular ministry model will keep the structure of your church flexible enough to adapt to the variety of ministry expressions that will make up your church as it grows into the future.
Annual Ministry Rhythm
When you gather as a pastoral staff to chart your annual ministry calendar, take a look at the natural peaks and valleys of each season of ministry to see if any patterns emerge. In our situation, we identified several natural rhythms that exist for people that live in our region and attend our church. We turned these major blocks of time on the calendar into "seasons of ministry" as follows:
- Season 1 = September to December
- Season 2 = January to March
- Season 3 = April to June
- Season 4 = July to August.
We then started to plot key items on our church calendar in order of priority, as determined by the principles of our common church culture.
We started with our "spiritual adventure series" because of the scope of involvement—it includes children, youth, adults, and seniors. We recognized that the beginning of season one and two were the most natural "launching" times for our church family. We also reserved an option to host a third series during season three if we felt it necessary to give special emphasis to a particular topic, such as a capital stewardship campaign. Our next order of importance was to plot our church-wide missional activity events, such as the annual Christmas drama production or Fathers' Day Car Show.
We then positioned our leadership training events to land at the beginning of each season of ministry, and made sure to include a church-wide connecting event at the beginning of each spiritual adventure series. Designing an annual rhythm of ministry based on the principles of a common church culture also serves to reinforce the value of community through small groups during the entire calendar year.
Spiritual Adventure Series
We have found that a sermon-based small group series that is offered at least twice each year significantly increases the level of spiritual formation in our church family, while also providing us with an effective strategy for people flow. A spiritual adventure series is where people of all ages (children, youth, adults, seniors) journey together over a specific period of time (usually 6–8 weeks) based on a common theme that is selected from the Bible.
During each series, we use a "Look, Learn, Live" model for experiential learning in community:
- Look. We corporately have a look at some biblical principles on Christian living during our Sunday morning worship services.
- Learn. We individually spend time reading the daily devotionals and recording our thoughts in a prayer journal.
- Live. We then gather together in small groups to share what we are learning and discuss ways to apply this truth to life.
During the rest of the year, each small group is free to choose what they want to study based upon the expressed need or interest of the group.
Making every effort to harness the power of alignment in your church will propel you forward in accomplishing your mission. Establishing a common church culture will help you define success for each participating member of your church family. Designing an annual ministry rhythm will help each ministry department determine their priorities, while giving space in the personal calendars of your church family for ministry outside the walls of your church. And launching some kind of spiritual adventure series at regularly appointed times during the year will greatly increase the number of people experiencing true community and engaging in an intentional process of spiritual growth.
When you combine all of these elements through the power of alignment, do not be surprised if you see your church "lift off" before your very eyes!
—Sandro Disabatino; copyright 2008 by the author and SmallGroups.com.