I went running in Philadelphia this past weekend. I love the Fairmount Park System, because I can run for miles in new territory. This day I set out to explore a several mile loop around a portion of the park. Shortly into my run I entered the park in front of a young college girl running at the same pace with me. (I’m assuming her identity based on her age and the college sweatshirt she was wearing.) We had been running together for about a half-mile when she apparently became impatient with my pace and decided to run faster. She gave me a look that seemed to speak “get out of my way old man” and quickly disappeared from my sight. I continued my steady pace through the park and encountered her again a couple miles later. She had looped around the park and was heading back, still continuing at her faster pace. We smiled at one another as we passed.
Thankfully for my ego the story took a change in my favor. After 3 or 4 miles I returned to the place we had originally met and what did I see? My college “friend” was walking, out of breath, holding her stomach and in obvious pain. She couldn’t finish the track. Not that I would wish her ill will, but I couldn’t help myself from giving her a look that said, “I may be old, but I’m still running.” (I also threw in a look that said, “Hope you get to feeling better.”)
In addition to boosting my adrenaline, it was a good reminder to me of a leadership principle. There are certainly times an organization needs to sprint. Organizations need times of stretching to take leaps forward. Momentum is built with energy and excitement and every organization should continually have periods of sprinting. Some decisions require immediate answers and there are times when we run at full pace to accomplish immediate goals. Healthy organizations continue to grow and there will be times of fast growth, but the key to long-term, sustainable health of an organization is establishing systems and strategies that guarantee a consistent and reliable pace of growth. The organization that continues to do well even in difficult days is the one that builds itself to survive the highs and the lows of time.
Companies such as Twitter and Facebook, for example, have grown at sprint pace. Most likely they will not be able to continue at their current growth rate long term. To be successful in the future and be companies that last they must find ways to convert their growth rate to a steadier pace. The employees of those companies are most likely stretched at this point. They are probably having fun sprinting right now, but their longevity and avoiding burnout will require they achieve healthy pace sometime in the near future.
This is true also for church plants, such as Grace Community Church, which has sprinted for our first three and half years. I hope we sprint at this pace for our first 10 years, but it is more important that we continue to grow for many years to come. (I pray we are still a healthy church when Jesus returns!) One of my consuming thoughts lately, therefore, is how to transition from a fast-paced plant, to a steadily growing, viable church. We may have years of 50% increases again in the future, and I hope we do, but the overriding goal should be that we continue to be a vibrant, growing church. For that I can learn principles from the tortoise.
Consider these questions:
- Are you positioning your company, church or organization for long-term success?
- Have you seen cycles and seasons of fast-paced growth and steady growth?
- What is stretching your organization right now? Are you healthy enough to maintain your health during the stretch?
- What suggestions do you have for our church at this point in our life?
- What companies or churches do you look to as examples of this principle, of positioning themselves for long-term growth and sustainability?