Complexity: What Ministry Programs Do We Stop?

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Last week I opened this series on complexity by sharing why churches become over programmed. Today I’d like to help you tackle how to determine what needs to be stopped.

By ministry programming I mean anything that is an ongoing gathering or initiative of the church. More broadly that would include worship services, small groups, student ministry, children’s ministry, women’s ministry, missions and so on. I suspect within broad categories like this, though, you probably could build lists of programming within each ministry as well. We’ll get to that in a moment.

I want to walk you through a series of steps to help you go from complexity to focus. I’m presenting them as a series of steps because the priority is important.

MOVING FROM COMPLEXITY TO FOCUS

Step 1 – Define reality.

Begin by finding agreement with your ministry leaders that you’re ministry programming is complex and needs to become more focused. If your team isn’t feeling the pain yet, it’s going to be difficult to find consensus on this.

Keep in mind, it would be highly unusual for everyone to agree that you are having an over-programming problem. The longer ministry silos have existed in a church, the higher the likelihood that some ministry leaders will work to protect all their programming regardless of the complexity challenges that it’s creating for the overall health of the church.

Step 2 – Confirm your mission and vision.

Your team needs to find agreement on why you exist as a church and where you are specifically trying to go in the future before you figure out how you intend to get there. The why precedes the how.

For a moment, you have to set aside all the programming complexities that have developed and focus on who you are and where you are going. This is key. You are firming up the “why.” If you begin stopping ministry programs without establishing why you are making changes, your effort will fail.

Step 3 – Determine who you’re trying to reach.

It’s impossible to confirm the right mix of programming if you don’t have agreement on who it is you’re trying to reach.

I’m going to work with the assumption that you want both to reach people who are outside the faith and outside the church. Who are the people you are hoping will become new disciples of Jesus? In other words, the who precedes the how as well.

(As a sidenote, if you have people on your team pulling against the why and the who, you have the wrong people on the team.)

Step 4 – Establish your spiritual formation path.

This path is intended to help people move from where they are to where God wants them to be. The path for every church will be different. That’s okay. The important thing is that you confirm your path. I recommend you include no more than four steps and that you have preferably one — but no more than two — ministry environments or programs to support each step.

Here’s the good news, we’ve created a free resource to develop your discipleship path with your team.

Step 5 – Let ministry teams reduce programming first.

Again, the priority of the steps is important here. It will always be easier to reduce programming within a specific ministry before you try to eliminate programming across the board. Here’s a specific tool I recommend you challenge every ministry area to use:

programming2

Let me explain how it works. First, have the ministry team list all their programming. For example, children’s ministry might include children’s church, Sunday school, Awana, children’s choirs, parent training, children’s baptism, Vacation Bible School, Mom’s day out, parenting classes, family events and so on. List everything.

Then take that full list and divide it in half based on the amount of life change you are seeing. You should consider both the discipleship next steps that people are taking, and the number of people who are being impacted. I’m going to assume everything you are doing is producing some level of life change. All you have to do at this point is split your full list so the programming that’s leading to more life change is listed in the right column, and the balance of the programming is in the left column.

You’ll have two lists. Now take each list separately and split them in half again. This time consider the investment required. That will include leadership investment, volunteers, money, space, promotions, etc. The programs that require more investment will go on top. The programs that require less investment will go on the bottom.

I recommend you do this as a team with no more than eight people. You’ll need to identify someone to facilitate the conversation and help to navigate where there’s agreement and where you still need to process more. By the time you complete this process, though, you should have four equal lists in each of the four quadrants.

Over time, obviously, the goal will be to invest more resources on the programming that’s producing more life change.

Step 6 – Reduce programming at the church level.

Repeat the last step but list everything that remains across the entire church. Again, this is a process that should be facilitated for the top eight or less ministry leaders of the entire church. The one caveat this time is that you do not need to make each of the four lists equal. Instead, you’ll take all the remaining ministry programs and plot them one by one in each of the four quadrants.

I still recommend you start by asking: Is the life change produced by this program high or low? Then ask the question: Does this program require a high or low level of resource investment? Those questions will help you move quickly through the list.

Don’t over think this. You’ll be surprised at how God will use the discernment wiring in your leaders to bring unity through this process.

Step 7 – Prepare and engage your stop plan.

With everything you identified at either the ministry level or the all-church level that landed in the “stop” quadrant, I recommend you place these programs in one of three categories: (1) stop immediately, (2) pause and reevaluate at a future date, and (3) pause and relaunch. You will, of course, want to use the “pause and relaunch” category sparingly, but there’s certainly a place for refreshing and relaunching programs and events if they will eventually help you reach more people and help those folks take their next steps on the discipleship path.

By the way, I’ve also previously listed some tips for stopping ministry programs. One of my teammates will also share some great insights on how to communicate and process the stop decisions with the appropriate people.

Let me just acknowledge that this isn’t an easy process.

Again, the priority of the steps is very important. Doing this as a team is crucial. Your leadership team needs to be unified in this effort. Finally, good facilitation of these conversations is critical. If you don’t have people on your team to facilitate this process, let us know. We may be able to help. Frankly, an outside perspective that’s a little more emotionally disconnected could help foster clearer thinking about what’s best for the overall health of the church.

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About Author

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.

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  1. […] Complexity: What Ministry Programs Do We Stop? by Tony Morgan. How do you know when you have too many ministry programs? And how do you know which ones to stop? Tony Morgan says that “it isn’t an easy process.” Here, he gives seven steps to go from a complex to a focused church. […]