Certainly a 100% success record is not possible. It’s not even desirable, since we learn as much through our failures as our successes. But increasing our batting average on successful ministries is always a good idea.
Bigger churches usually have systems in place to help them gauge the value of their ministries. But Small Churches tend to do a lot more hit-and-miss, with new ministries starting on a whim or out of guilt, while ongoing ministries can sometimes hang on far beyond their reasonable expiration date.
In my more than 30 years of Small Church ministry, I’ve been blessed to see some great ministries launch and succeed. But in my early years I probably had more than my share of ministries that didn’t work. Or they stopped working but kept going anyways.
Through those experiences, I’ve discovered 5 principles that I now use whenever I consider starting a new ministry or ending a current one. (Despite my dislike of alliteration, these 5 all happen to start with the letter P.)
Somebody has to be excited about an idea if it has any hope of starting or continuing well. When people stop caring, can we even call it ministry any more?
But passion alone is not enough.
This may be the single biggest mistake Small Church leaders make in starting new ministries and the #1 reason so many new ministries fail. We go to a church conference, read a book or hear about a great ministry someone else is doing, so we launch out with enthusiasm. But, while passion is essential, it needs some practical principles to guide it.
A ministry that was a good idea in one church may not be a good idea in another church. And a ministry that worked well ten years ago may not be valid today.
Do you know why your church exists? What would be missing from your community if your church was no longer there? If you don’t, it’s critical to find that out as soon as possible.
Then, only do ministries that suit that purpose.
Also, does this new ministry meet a real need? That’s the purpose of ministry to begin with. Meeting needs.
Jesus never sent anyone out alone. Two-by-two was the smallest leadership group ever.
Even Jesus did all his ministry in the company of other leaders. Yes, he spent time alone with the father in prayer. But he never did ministry alone.
The surest way to burn out a leader and kill a ministry is to have someone lead it alone.
In our church, no one is allowed to lead a ministry unless they have at least one other person on the leadership team with them. People have bristled against this requirement at times, especially when they’re passionate about something. But if there’s not even one other person willing to step up in leadership, how likely is it that the ministry will succeed? Or that it’s even needed?
“Let’s do it!” is not a plan.
Before a ministry should launch, there needs to be a roadmap telling us where to go and how we expect to get there. Sure, the plan is subject to editing, especially in a brand-new ministry. But, as the old saying goes, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”
If there’s good curriculum out there, or a tested program that’s worked elsewhere, adapt it for your situatioon. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
It’s also a good idea to ask two questions and include them in your plan:
Question #1: What does success look like? What are we trying to achieve and how will we know if we’ve succeeded?
Question #2: What does the end look like? How will we know when the ministry has either failed, or run its course and needs to be ended?
Sometimes, that means setting a specific end date. Sometimes it’s a numerical goal that needs to be hit or maintained. Sometimes it’s based on meeting a need so well that the the ministry is no longer required. Knowing the answer to these two questions may be the best way to ensure that a ministry which has reached the end of its life-cycle doesn’t keep going by its own inertia.
We tend to make two equal, but opposite mistakes in regard to prayer.
Mistake #1: We forget it entirely, or tack it on as an afterthought. Prayer must be more than a ceremonial part of this process.
Mistake #2: Thinking that “God told me to do this” is enough.
Yes, if God truly tells someone to do something we should do it, no matter what. But the real-world question for most of us is how do we know it’s actually God telling us to do something? Or is it just a strong feeling we hold?
In my experience, prayer works best when it’s done in tandem with the previous four principles. They act as guardrails against extreme emotion disguising itself as God’s voice.
Assess, Equip and Encourage
Very few, if any, ministries have come to me with all 5 principles in place.
Usually someone comes in with passion for an idea and a halfway plan of what it might look like, but very little else.
But I work really hard to say “yes” to people with passion.
If it looks like their idea might fit in with our church’s purpose, it’s my calling as their pastor to help equip and encourage them to get it where it needs to be.
What I do is sit down with a potential leader and walk them through the previous 5 points together. We assess which of the 5 are strong and which ones need strengthening.
Do you need a partner to lead this with you? Often I’ll have some ideas of possible co-leaders that I’ll recommend.
Does it need a plan? Let’s do some research for good programs or curriculum.
Doing it this way may take more time than you’re used to. But in my experience, having these 5 principles in place before a ministry gets started is the best way to give a great ministry and good people their greatest chance of success.
So what do you think? Do you have any principles you’d add to the list?
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