It’s always bothered me to spend months busting my backside to get an effective ministry launched in September/October only to have it roll to a virtual stop by mid-June. Sure, there are lots of excuses for the “summer slump,” but it turns out that most of these slumps happen because churches don’t just get “ready” for it, they facilitate it. Like cancelling Sunday school, collapsing worship services together, and putting the choir or the worship band on hiatus.

With that in mind, I was looking for a particular metaphor on momentum and found this excellent blog post from Bill Perkins. Here’s an excerpt from his post.

“Have you ever wondered how a locomotive can overcome the inertia of so much weight? We’re talking about 12,000 tons. Even though the locomotive may weigh 270,000-pounds and makes 3,200 horsepower (some generate 7,000 horsepower) generating over 64,000 pounds of thrust it could never pull 12,000 tons from a dead stop. The fact is the locomotive doesn’t pull them all at once. It only pulls one car at a time. The engineer does this by backing up the locomotive so that all of the slack is removed from the couplers as the cars are bunched together. While in motion, the brakes are set enough to prevent coasting, and the train comes to a stop. The engine then starts forward having only to pull one car at a time to get it rolling, which it can easily do for about an inch, then the second car is pulled, and so on until the slack comes out of all the couplers. By the time the caboose is pulled, the engine is sometimes traveling as much as 10 to 15 miles an hour. That would explain why the caboose crew is taught to set facing the engine with their back against the seat, and their heads tight against the headrest. As they hear the machine gun-like pop-op-pop of the couplers they know they’re about to jerk forward. (Notice that the train in the picture has four locomotives and 200 cars–just do the math on that baby).

“Once moving, a train can crash through a steel-reinforced concrete wall that is five-feet thick. And we’ve all seen images of cars and trucks unfortunate enough to get hit by a train.

“But all of that forward momentum can be prevented by placing a one-inch block of wood in front of and behind the eight drive wheels of the locomotive.”

I’ll close this article with some comments and reflections on momentum, summer slumps, and effective leadership.

  1. It takes a LOT of energy to get a train moving… and to get an effective ministry started. It will take less energy to maintain progress than to stop it and get it started again. Shutting down programs guarantees you’ll burn extra resources to get started again – it’s better not to stop at all.
  2. It takes very little resistance to keep a train from starting… or to keep a potentially effective ministry from starting. If you get a ministry started that’s making a significant difference in people’s lives (and thus growing the church), you can – and should – expect some pushback from those who love the status quo. If you press “pause” on the ministry for the summer (or for any other reason), you can – and should – expect those one-inch blocks to be shoved in front of and behind your ministry’s wheels when you try to resurrect it and get started again. It’s better not to stop at all.
  3. On the other hand, if your church hosts a ministry that is ineffective or antithetical to your congregation’s DNA, given the above two reflections, stopping it for the summer might be a good idea. Just sayin’.
  4. One last comment that’s totally unrelated to the summer slump. When it comes to leadership and starting a new ministry, the train metaphor offers excellent insights. Get your cars in order, take a few steps back, and move forward by getting your leadership team and your church leaders on board one at a time if necessary. Continue moving ahead a car at a time (or a leader at a time or a member at a time) until there’s enough momentum that, even if the caboose doesn’t want to go along, the forward momentum will be so powerful that it will have to follow.

Question: Has the summer slump ever taken one of your ministries down? How have you pulled other ministries through? Share your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the Comments section below.