Zero-Based Church Scheduling

Your church may be too busy.

Indeed your church calendar may be so full you have rendered much of the activity of the members ineffective. It’s time to start fresh.

I am proposing you dump everything on your church calendar. Okay, I’m not serious. But I am serious about your hypothetically cleaning the calendar. Let me give you my argument in a few bullet points:

  • Most churches have too many activities and programs and ministries for their members. Indeed most of their members are too busy to do ministry in the real world.
  • Over the years, those churches have added many things to the calendar without subtracting many or any. Those churches have a bloated calendar.
  • Attempt this exercise. Start with a blank calendar. We call that zero-based church scheduling. For now, it’s only a hypothetical exercise.
  • Now, fill in the calendar with only those activities you feel will really move the church forward. Keep it simple. Keep it basic.
  • Look at those activities that didn’t make the cut. See if the church is ready to reduce or eliminate the commitment to them. If not, you can make certain you don’t invest more money or time in the activity.
  • If you do this every year, your leadership will become more and more aware of how precious the resource of time is for your members. They will become more cautious before adding even more stress or activities to your members.

In too many of our churches, we have become so busy doing activities, our members have little or no time to do real ministry outside the walls of the church.

We need effective churches, not busy churches.

We need simple churches, not complex churches.

As you move into a new year, consider your church calendar. Be willing to consider reducing or eliminating those activities that lead to busyness but not effectiveness.

It could be the best New Year’s resolution you make.

Posted on December 20, 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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  • Doug Tegner says on

    Love this idea of zero-based scheduling — makes sense, yet question the premiss that the freed-up hours during a week/month will lead to members living a more Missional Life. Cases in point over the past decades may include the termination of Sunday night services and midweek prayer or bible studies. Do these churches really see their people engaging in community outreach or relationships with the non-Christians in their world?

  • Jay–you are absolutely right! Thank you for the courage to say what needs to be said.

    I grew up in a tiny Baptist church in the oilfield. The building was built by the men of the church, and to say it was a simple shelter is putting it mildly. Either our deacons preached, we had a supply preacher (gas money only), or very rarely a called and ordained preacher (who also worked in the oilfield.)

    Without tithing taught, with very little money spent, we reached our community.

    Today we have program on top of program on top of more spending and are not reaching our communities.

    Time to reboot!

  • After many years of weekly church routine, I decided it was time to seek a ministry that would fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). The Lord have placed me in a diverse church without a building that is beginning to reach a diverse community. You article hit the nail, at this point in time, Christians should not settle to a position in the church pews.

  • The simplest church is when a Christian continues to humbly read, learn, and obey the Word of God in prayer and then commits to share that Word through Christ-like living, and love-based preaching amongst the people they encounter in the course of their every day lives.

    This does not require a building program, staffing, 403b accounts, 501c3’s, multimedia Sunday morning concerts, elaborate and expensive stage props, redundant ministry directors, sound and video techs, financial serenity counselors, millenial parent day care ministry workers, grounds keepers, bookkeepers, planning boards, deacon boards, apostle boards, bishop boards, coffee shops, amusement park kids ministry areas, expensive study materials, copyrighted music royalty fees, radio ads, print ads, lawyers, satellite building pastors, janitors, drivers, vehicles, insurance, mortgages, building maintenance workers, auto techs, HVAC techs, Human Resources staffers, retreat commitees, pastor appreciation day fund raisers, and I could go on.

    In far too many churches, tithes and offerings won’t reach the community until the above is funded first. What few remaining budget resources that may be left are then sparsely divided amongst the church member needs programs. Their local community people who knock on the church door requesting finance, food and shelter assistance are redirected to seek assistance from state government programs or local overburdened secular programs. But a prayer worker promises to lift them up in prayer before they are escorted out by security.

    The Cross does not need a toll booth, a fence or any perimeter guards with fancy clothes and white gloves with announcement bulletins.

    We need an ear to hear God’s voice, a tongue to proclaim His voice, and a heart willing and obedient to do His will lovingly in the lives of others.

  • Jonathan H. Lemaster says on

    This is great in theory and will work with vision alignment of the church. Unfortunately, emotional and sentimental attachment to a favorite activity is the driving force rather than resource stewardship and vision alignment. Far too often I’ve found breaking those emotional attachments to an activity is almost impossible. Without the support of others, the cut items always end back up on the calendar.

    Any suggestions for dealing with the human aspect and emotional attachments to activites? Short of heart transformation.

    • Les Ferguson says on

      One church I worked with before I was ordained had 96 different groups or activities it supported. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize the average attendance was about 135-170 on Sunday and ~250 members. When we drilled down to look at the activities we found a lot of things that were supported by one or two people.

      Because we felt our implied support of all those activities wasn’t consistent with our mission and really wasn’t a “church” activity but a personal one we retired the activities. The retirement acknowledged the prior and ongoing need for those ministries; acknowledged that we supported the ministries with prayer and nurturing of those who participated; and then with a self-generated ceremony we offered the activities to God as part of our offering.

      That way the “owner” of the activity is not slighted and the congregation recognizes the efforts that have taken place in the past. It also affords the congregation an opportunity to reflect about the activity and determine if that might be a place where God is calling the congregation to refocus or simply to let the activity finish its life.

  • Jerry Chiles says on

    My Peer Learning Group is interested in learning about the Characteristics of Successful Churches. I know you have published characteristics of dying churches. Have you published info on Successful Churches?

  • Robert H. Wright Jr says on

    Within a powerful and growing church, we find a balance between the internal and the external. We need to be concerned with both. The important thing is that the “flock” be fed with the Word of God.
    Look at the world today. Is this what we want? Personally, I prefer the peaceful world of God’s Kingdom to the busy kingdom of the secular world.

  • Another great blog post.

    We did just this. And asked each ministry leader to motivate what gets on to the church calendar. The result:

    That’s for you input.

  • This is a timely post for our little church, as we start loading our first-ever formal planning calendar. I’d like to see the programs IN the church equip us to do ministry OUTSIDE the church.

  • Wow. You’ve hit the nail on the head, friend.

    As is true with so many areas of endeavor, sacred and secular, the program usually become an end unto itself, thus losing the importance of the task itself. I recall a tale years ago, of a guard tower on the cliffs of Dover, whose senty was responsible to warning of the approach of Napoleon’s Navy. That job was eliminated in 1948.

    We have a good example of this in FBC Pelham. Years ago we started an alternative to trick-or-treating on on Halloween; we named it the “Fall Family Festival.” Dress up, bring the kids, have them recite a Bible verse and get a bag of candy.

    This year, it was held October 1st …