One of the things that sets good cooks and great cooks apart is the ability to know just how much spice to add to a dish. The ability to self-edit and restrain the impulse to enhance a recipe with a heavy hand creates a master chef. This is true for pastors and church leaders as well. Knowing how to not overburden the church with too many activities, programs, and initiatives is one of the characteristics that distinguishes good and great leaders.
I have observed that churches that maintain sustained healthy growth do less while many plateaued or struggling churches push themselves to do more in an effort to make something happen. These churches that attempt to do everything or extend themselves beyond their capacity, end up not doing anything well. In contrast, the churches that focus on doing less have learned to be first-rate with what they can do with excellence.
One exercise that our church goes through at the end of each year is to evaluate what programs, personnel, or practices we need to either retire, replace, or renovate. In a series of meetings with leadership, we go through a rigorous and laborious process of evaluating everything we did during the year. Our goal is to find places where we can cut out any place we have collectively identified as ineffective or inefficient. Our goal is to ensure that we are aligning to the mission of the church and accomplishing the goals that were established for a particular area. Each year we eliminate 10% of our operational practices or programs without damaging our ministry.
At one time, we had over 75 ministries operating throughout our church. Many of the activities were duplicated by other ministries and we experienced high turnover in leadership because the same individuals were responsible for multiple tasks. We learned that we have been called to make disciples and not make new programs.
Listed below are the questions we ask ourselves to come to consensus on what adjustments need to be made in the coming calendar year.
- What are the programs volunteers are quitting and withdrawing their support?
- What are the programs that are hard to get people to commit to and serve?
- In which programs are we connecting with the unchurched the most?
- In which programs and ministries are we needing stronger leadership?
- In what areas of the church are we experiencing healthy spiritual growth?
- Are financial resources being used effectively for this event, program, or objective?
- Does this particular program align with the church’s values?
- What do we sense from God concerning this program, event, or objective?
- What would it take to bring this ministry one more level up in its effectiveness?
- If this ministry, program, or objective was eliminated, who would miss it?
- What spiritual fruit was produced from this activity?
These questions are not an exhaustive list, nor do they get to the heart of every issue that needs to be raised. Yet, they do promote lively discussion and lead us to make improvements with buy in from the staff and leadership.
It took years to develop a staff and lay leadership that could carry out this exercise. This process takes a tremendous amount of trust among the leaders and loads of grace is given without threats of job loss, shame, or negative consequence to an individual. Rarely have we had to eliminate a staff person or volunteer. However, this annual process has led to persons being reassigned, job descriptions being rewritten, and oftentimes a promotion for some. We continue to do it because the team is committed to ensuring that the church stays focused on its mission and purging ourselves of programs and activities that pull us away from Christ’s call. Learning to say “no” to some things allows us to say “yes” to the things that will give the highest return for the Kingdom.
I encourage you, with your team, to take this season to do a ministry evaluation. Examine the ministries that are thriving and those that are barely surviving and make some difficult choices. Having less on our to do list can allow us room to do much more than we ever imagined. One bright spot in this pandemic, is that it has taught us how to do more with less.