Last week I asked for help with a short survey to learn from successful and unsuccessful attempts to stop ministries, programs and events. Surprisingly, almost every response was related to a successful ending.
Over 20 churches responded that represented eight different denominations and several non-denominational ministries that ranged from 50 to 8,000 in attendance. They included churches that started in the 1800s to churches that launched in the last decade.
Examples of ministries or events these churches stopped included Sunday school classes, Christian schools, Sunday night services, women’s Bible studies, children’s choirs, men’s ministries, multisite closures, community outreach events and Awana.
Based on their responses, I compiled a list of 12 strategies to use when your church needs to stop a ministry or event:
- Connect the change to the overall mission and vision. Of course, this begins with the assumption that you have a clear mission (Why do you exist?) and vision (Where are you headed?). It’s much easier to stop a ministry or event if you can point to why resources need to be reinvested to help you fulfill your preferred future.
- Define clear expectations for measuring success before the ministry starts. When everyone is clear on what the win looks like from the beginning, it helps to remove the emotional impact of ending a ministry that may have been successful in the past.
- Engage the key stakeholders early. Who are the leaders and influencers most impacted by the change? Present the challenge to them early so that they can be involved in developing and then owning the solutions as well.
- Don’t delay before or after initiating the change. The most common refrain from those who responded to this survey was that they should have acted sooner and not let the change process drag on too long.
- Communicate openly, honestly and with kindness. The communications need to be sequenced with the right people at the right time. You have to communicate the “why” frequently.
- Begin with one-on-one conversations before meeting with groups. Give individuals the opportunity to identify key questions that need to be addressed and allow them to speak into the solutions. Ask them who is going to be most impacted by the change…and then talk with those individuals too.
- Replace what you’re ending with a better option. What was the underlying value behind the ministry or event you are stopping? It’s very possible that the value is still important to the ministry. It just needs to be revived with a new strategy or initiative.
- Make sure the leadership is united. This is a biblical command. “…Live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” (I Corinthians 1:10, NLT) Fortunately, it’s possible to disagree privately on execution and still be fully unified publicly behind mission, vision and values.
- The top leader must lead the change process. The senior or lead pastor has to be the primary leader any time significant change is involved. The challenge, of course, is that senior pastors are often people-pleasers. Because of that, they may be inclined to let someone else take the lead. Leading change cannot be delegated.
- Recognize that it’s a stewardship matter. Ask yourself, “what’s the best stewardship of God’s limited resources? With limited money, volunteers, space, communications focus, leadership, staff, etc., what’s the wisest investment to see the most life change?”
- Take a break rather than canceling immediately. Whether it’s a Sunday evening service, the Awana program or the annual outreach event, just push the pause button. Take a break to test-drive a new solution. You don’t have to commit to canceling it forever until people have the opportunity to see what a better future looks like.
- Be courageous. Change, even the healthiest of changes, is difficult for anyone who is on the receiving end. Keep your focus on the bigger picture. Will more people be reached in the end? If so, take courage and act.
What have you learned from similar instances when you had to lead through a major change? What worked? What didn’t? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let others learn from your experiences.