Most churches keep their members so busy they don’t have time to do ministry.
Indeed, I spoke to a lay elder of a church recently who told me he simply did not have time to get to know his neighbors because he was so busy in his church.
Something is not right with this picture.
In an earlier post, I talked about how our churches can become more intentional about doing real ministry instead of busy work. But in this article, I address how churches became so busy. Perhaps understanding the origins of dysfunctional busyness will help churches avoid this problem in the future.
- Activities became synonymous with ministry. I am familiar with a missions support group in a church. It includes over 30 people, representing over 20 percent of the weekly worship attendance. The group is very active with fellowships, meetings, and speaker events. But the missions support group has never supported missions, nor have they ever been involved in missions. But they sure are busy.
- Programs and ministries are added regularly, but few or none are ever deleted. This reality is glaringly obvious at a church in the Southeast with an average attendance of 60. The church has 15 committees and nearly 30 different programs and ministries throughout the year. They almost have one ministry or program for every member. They add some activity every year, but they never delete the dead or useless activities.
- Programs and ministries become sacred cows. They were once the pet project of a particular member or a group of members, alive or deceased. The thought of eliminating the non-functional ministry started by Sister Harriett or Brother Frank 35 years ago is deemed blasphemous.
- The alignment question is not asked on the front end. Even a good ministry may not be the best use of time for a church. In one church, the membership voted to initiate a ministry because one person had become a believer through the ministry in another church over a two-year period. But the church members never considered if there might be other ministries that could be more effective and better aligned with the direction of the church.
- Silo behavior among the different ministries of the church. A worship ministry in the church began a new ministry that required extensive volunteer help. But the leaders never considered they were hurting other ministries in the church. Members don’t have unlimited time; they have to make choices.
- Lack of an evaluation process. Most churches have an annual budgetary process. That is an ideal time to ask tough questions about existing ministries and programs. Very few church leaders take that opportunity.
- Ministry becomes facility-centered. In other words, if it’s not happening in the church facilities, it’s not “real” ministry. As a consequence, we keep our members too busy to do ministry outside the walls of the church.
- Lack of courageous leadership. It takes courage for a leader to look at the busyness of a church and say “no” or “enough.” Some leaders would rather not rock the boat and, as a consequence, lead a church toward mediocrity and malaise.
We are wasting too much time, energy, and money in our churches. Often we are doing more things and becoming less effective. It’s time for busy churches to become simple churches.
Posted on May 8, 2017
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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“Too busy does not mean your successful” whoever said that I love it. I was on of “those” people and got very burned out with church and Ministry to others (both). Lessons learned – we need to set ourselves apart from all busyness and spend that time going “deep” with the Lord instead of spread “wide” with busyness and church or ministry activity. Song of Songs nicely puts it
“My mother’s (mother is the church) sons (sons are the leaders) were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; (church work) my own vineyard (personal spirit)I had to neglect.
7 Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday.”
We so have to get back to the garden with I tim at with GOD and spent our time with Him!! The bible has much to say about this!
Bill Hull refers to undiscipled disciples as the elephant in the room. He states that we ignore the elephant, throw a tablecloth over it and call it a table. However, ignoring it does not make it go away. This elephant is constantly fed by the conclusion that immature believers’ levels of commitment are acceptable; by meeting the needs of these immature believers; and by the resulting occupation of church leaders’ time and energy. Hull precisely states, “The solution will come when […] a group of tightly knit leaders […] are willing to take a lot of criticism in order starve the elephant and feed their souls.”
Pastors are often guilty of being too busy and equating it to ministry or spirituality as well. As pastors, we must be careful as we set the tone for the church. If we get too busy, we may set a pace of “too busy” for the church. As the pastor goes, so often the church follows. We must be bold enough to say “no” more than we do. As my wife says, “Motion does not necessarily mean progress.”
Thanks for your ministry, Dr. Rainer!
Thank you as well, Brett.
>Pastors are often guilty of being too busy and equating it to ministry or spirituality as well.
a) Were the laity more spiritual when daily services were held at Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline?
b) What would happen to the congregation if all of the existing groups and programs were shuttered, and those daily services were instituted in their stead?
What we’re working on: be wise stewards (and guardians) of time, energy, and enthusiasm first.
Acknowledge the limits on those, including recognizing the desire for families to have time, for people to encounter and engage their own neighbors, and make the first steps of schedule and calendar take those matters into account.
After that, take a look at the material resources–most of the time, we have adequate material resources for those activities and schedule items which people have time, energy, and enthusiasm for. And if we don’t, it’s much easier to close that gap.
Good word, Doug.
I asked our church to consider a zero-based budgeting approach to all programs. Start from scratch and evaluate every program, committee, ministry, etc., to make sure they were still effective, relevant and wanted.
I love it! Let me know if you implement it.
We’ve stopped teaching, encouraging and modeled REAL sabbath. Sunday, in most churches, is anything but. Which means it needs to happen another day.
Why have you stopped teaching and encouraging? Why do you model the Sabbath?
Our Church is planning to have 3 months a year where we take time off from everything except weekly corporate worship. The purpose is so that the attended a and leaders do not burn out attending so many meetings or ministries. I agree with most of these reasons and look forward to implementing these suggestions.
Fascinating. Are you suspending your groups during this time as well?
Yes, our community, men’s and women’s groups will not be meeting. But it will not be 3 consecutive months.
I am curious about your ministries in the community. Will you be taking that time off from those as well?
Busy people don’t have time to ask questions.
Also, working harder is regarded as being more faithful.
Some of these committees were started to keep some people powerless but feeling important.
Some of this busy work was started to see who would make a good deacon/elder. It is like pledging the fraternity or the path to making partner.
Well said, Mark.