Monday, March 16, 2015

Activity does not equal ministry

What does your church calendar look like? If it's like many, it's packed with various activities throughout the year. There are the usual ones like Sunday school, worship services, Vacation Bible School, and perhaps others depending on your traditions. In addition there are probably many committee meetings, church business meetings, staff meetings, board meetings, and other activities necessary to keep the church functioning. Add to this list various fellowship activities like Thanksgiving Dinner, Sunrise Service breakfast, Mother-Daughter banquets, and more, and you've got a pretty full calendar.

Now, at the end of the year what was actually accomplished as a result of all this activity? How many people outside your church were touched through the ministry of your church? How many were led to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a result of these numerous activities? How many people were added to your church's membership role, and more importantly, to the Kingdom of God?

There is often a huge disconnect between a church's busy calendar and its impact on the community. Churches struggle to understand why it's so hard to reach new people especially given the fact that they have been so busy all year. What these churches fail to understand is that the vast majority of that activity was focused on the current membership of the church and keeping the church machinery running. The activities have been about maintaining what already exists, not in new ministries that will impact the lives of new people.

There is nothing wrong with any of the things I listed above that will be found on many church calendars. The question that needs to be asked if whether or not these activities are the most effective use of the church's resources. Some of these are sacred cows that many churches feel they have to continue, but are they still effective?

Our daughter became a Christian at Vacation Bible School. As a result, my wife and I soon asked Christ into our lives. A few years later I became a minister. VBS has always been important to me and was an important part of our church's ministry. But, even back in the 1990s I could see that it was less and less effective. People's work schedules made it difficult to have enough workers. Children were involved in so many activities in their shortened summers from school that attendance was often disappointing. Few received perfect attendance certificates. When I was a child, our churches offered two week VBS, when I was a pastor most churches only offered one week VBS, now I see some offering it over a weekend or one evening a week for four weeks. Maybe it's time to acknowledge that VBS was for a different time period and move on to another ministry that might be more effective.

These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking about everything we're doing. Does a church really need a monthly business meeting in 2015? Not really, unless this is a very low-trust church where people are paranoid about what others are doing. Do all committees really need to exist? I've said for years that most churches could eliminate 80 percent of their committees and nobody in the church would ever be able to tell the difference.

When you eliminate the activities that no longer have much impact you free people up to do ministries that do matter. When you do ministries that matter you will see the difference in your church at the end of the year.  For more on this, check out my book Intentional Ministry in a Not-So-Mega Church: Becoming a Missional Community.

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