Why do churches have trouble dropping or changing ministry programs? Often I think it is because people forget or misunderstand why we started the program in the first place. In essence, because they forget the plan. The ministry was started to produce certain fruit. When it is no longer producing that fruit, it needs to be changed or replaced with something that will produce that fruit.
Here is an example:
Our ministry plan needed an outreach ministry. We needed to attract unbelievers from our community to our congregation so that they can hear the Gospel message. We targeted youth, hoping that we will not only get youth, but parents as well. We started a youth basketball program. We had the church members invite their neighbors to the program. In the first year, we got 10 unchurched kids and from this five new families come to hear the message, and were saved. That is some fruit. Somewhere along the way, it stopped being about outreach and became about basketball. We soon had teams and kids from other churches coming to play, but not very many neighborhood kids and very few families continued to invite their neighbors. We went from 8 teams to 24, and the program took 10 volunteers to keep running, and went from 3 hours on a Saturday morning, to all day each Saturday. The program felt successful because it had grown large, and it had a very committed team of volunteers who believed strongly in the program. During the last two years, however, only one family came to know Christ as a result of the program.
Here is the worst part. Most of the boys and girls in the church look forward to when they are old enough to be in the basketball program. The church families see the program benefits to them and their kids, not the outreach. So when the elder board recommended that the ministry be changed or replaced, there was tremendous resistance and friction within the body. There was dissatisfaction and divison. Several families left the church, including some of the leaders of the program, because they felt that the church was no longer meeting their needs.
The purpose of the program changed, and we didn’t recognize it. It went from an outreach to an inreach without our recognizing the change, and we did nothing about it.
We ended up spending lots of resources maintaining the program, and it displaced other ministries that could have used the facility during that time. We produced very little fruit. So were we good stewards of God’s resources? No – we became selfish and inwardly focused. The program became a club to serve our needs, rather than the community.
I think that this is a story that is repeated over and over in churches and ministries. Without consistent focus on the reason we are doing ministry programs, and an consistent measurement of the fruitfulness of each program, without keeping both the volunteers (resources) and the participants aware of the purpose and effectiveness of the ministry, through initiation and celebration, programs tend to lose some fruitfulness over time. If we are good stewards, we will make necessary adjustments before the program totally stops producing, and can evolve a program over time to keep it productive. When a program stops being productive, and adjustments are not possible or effective, replacing the program is the right thing to do, but unless your volunteers and participants are aware of the purpose of the program, they may react poorly.