By Thom S. Rainer
If local churches were humans, most of them would experience burnout. Many congregations are too busy to be effective. Many have a hodgepodge of seemingly unrelated activities.
As a consequence, there is no clear plan or process of discipleship in these churches. Members are often confused about what they should do and how active they should be in the disparate ministries and programs. And some members pull back their involvement altogether in a sense of frustration and often guilt.
So how did churches get so busy? How did their calendars fill up so quickly that it left no breathing room for members and staff? There seems to be seven major contributing factors.
- Many church leaders fail to ask the “why” questions when starting a new ministry. Why are we starting this ministry? Why should we continue it long-term? Why are we asking people to be involved? When a church has no clear and compelling purpose for a new ministry, it becomes just another activity.
- Churches often have no process or plans to eliminate ministries. Thus ministries continue even if they are no longer effective or needed. They become analogous to the clutter we often have in our homes.
- Some ministries are started just to please people. Sometimes church leaders take the path of least resistance and allow new ministries to be added just because one or a few church members wanted them. The ministry may not be the best for the church, but church leaders are often reticent to say no.
- Some ministries have become sacred cows. Their impact on the church is negligible. Very few people are involved. But any mention of eliminating them is met with stiff resistance.
- Ministries in many churches operate in a silo. So the student ministry has its own plans. Adult small group ministry has its own calendar without regard for the church as a whole. And the missions ministry makes extensive plans, but does not ask how they tie in with the rest of the church. So the couple who has teenage children wants to be involved in all three areas, but the calendars and activities conflict with one another.
- Some church leaders have a philosophy of always saying “yes” because they desire to see all people unleashed to do ministry. Such a philosophy is admirable in its motives. But it can devolve into confusion and chaos as countless and disconnected ministries are added to the church’s activities.
- Most churches have no process to evaluate ministries each year. When ministries continue with no evaluation to their effectiveness, they are likely to be on the church calendar well past the rapture. One of the roles of church leaders is to evaluate ministries every year. There should be some criteria to determine if their continued existence is good stewardship.
I recently met with a pastor whose church is emblematic of the hyper-busy congregation. Morning worship attendance is steady at 350, but Sunday evening worship had declined in a decade from 160 to 40. The pastor suggested the church consider eliminating the Sunday evening service, an act that required a majority vote in a business meeting. Over 300 members came to the business meeting and voted by over 80 percent to continue the activity. Of course, hardly any of those members ever came to Sunday evening service before or after the vote.
Our churches are just too busy. Is your church one of these busy congregations? Let me hear from you.
This article was originally posted on ThomRainer.com.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.