I’m very competitive, and I like to win. Whether it’s on the basketball court, a family board game or in the marketplace, I like to win. My wife will sometimes get frustrated with me because I don’t play games “just for the fun of it.” From my perspective, it’s not worth playing the game unless you (and your competition) are trying to win.
If our competitive spirit is misplaced, though, it can be a very dangerous thing. That brings me to this fourth test in our series on ministry silos.
4. There’s an internal culture of competition.
Even in ministry, a competitive instinct can be healthy if it’s focused on an external challenge. In ministry, external challenges might include reaching an unchurched culture, feeding people who are hungry, trying to lower the divorce rate in the community and so on. It’s a good thing if the entire team rallies together to conquer an external challenge.
In churches, unfortunately, that’s not typically the type of competitive spirit that’s displayed. Instead, the competition occurs internally between individuals and ministries. The student ministry is competing with the children’s ministry for space. The women’s ministry is competing with the men’s ministry for promotions. One missions initiative is competing against another missions team for money.
Rather than having conversations around how each ministry can support the broader mission and vision, each ministry is an island. In words they may communicate “we’re in this together,” but when it comes time to get a platform announcement, budget money, volunteer help, time on the calendar and space in the building, it’s every ministry for themselves.
One example of this is with volunteer engagement. Ideally we would encourage people to identify their strengths and passions and then plug them in where they best fit. Instead, a church with ministry silos competes over the “best” people as opposed to leveraging a strategy that allows individuals to serve in their area of giftedness.
How do we eliminate unhealthy competition? We have to get everyone focused on the same win. Again, that’s where focused mission, vision and strategy come into play. Without a clear game plan, individual teams will naturally gravitate to focusing on what’s happening in their own ministry area. An “us against them” culture will settle in.
Let me share one related note when it comes to competition. Like I mentioned earlier, it can be a very good thing when churches rally together to address a specific external challenge. We need to remember, however, that other churches are not our competition. In my experience coaching and consulting with church leaders, I’ve never found a church that had health and a growing impact in the community by trying to “beat” another church.
When we recognize that other churches in our community are on our team, it opens the possibility for partnerships to tackle real external challenges. And, it forces each church to identify their unique contribution to the greater mission. That’s a good thing.
How are you doing with this test? Is your competitive spirit focused on a specific external challenge? If not, that’s the fourth warning sign that your church may have ministry silos.
Other articles in this series: