It's Not Rocket Science

Excellence is the art of reducing complex tasks to simple virtues. If you are running any sort of ministry for adults, from Generation X to seniors, you need as much excellence as you can get! The burgeoning diversity of the adult population, intense competition from other activities, and the torrential pace of modern life can make the whole enterprise seem almost impossible. How many ministry leaders do you know who have simply given up?

startup-849794 640The good news is that quality ministries are built more out of simplicity than complexity. Failure can result from trying to do so much that the basics are not done well. I have assembled here some principles essential to effective adult ministry:

The hardest thing to do with any ministry is honestly assess how things are going. Leadership, however, means being able to ask and answer the tough questions. In fact, the person who frames those questions first is the leader.

Ministries easily slip into a state psychologists would call "denial." A group comfort level has desensitized members to their lack of purpose and influence. After some time together, every group faces the crisis of having to ask, "So how's business these days?" Unless that question is asked regularly, the program can lose its focus and drift away from the sense of mission that launched it.

You can keep things relevant by considering a strategy called "zero-based programming." In this philosophy, no ministry has a right to exist. The program is reviewed (perhaps annually) to determine whether it should be continued. This creates a firebreak that prevents obsolete initiatives from soaking up energy and funding that could be invested in fresh, new ideas.

George Barna has noted that social developments that used to take a decade or more are now compressed into periods as brief as 3 years. Leading any organization in this climate of rapid change requires skillful management. Ministries that stay the same gradually lose relevance. Those that change in the wrong ways or at the wrong times can win the battle while losing the war.

Three good rules for achieving excellence are:

First, be ready and willing to change when it is truly necessary.

Second, do not try to alter things at a pace faster than your group can assimilate.

Third, avoid the tendency, characteristic of insecure leaders, to make hurried decisions without including those who are affected. Talking with many people for a long time is the best way to open the door to the future. In fact, the people will open it for you.

A simple way to develop the potential of your program is to analyze how you use space. Every ministry leader should have a space diagram that shows square footage measurement.

Ask specific questions: Are our largest groups in our largest spaces? If we were redesigning our ministry, where would each group be placed? Could some classes grow more if they just had the room? Is the auditorium really the best place for an adult class? Could we do better by using spaces off-site (e.g., at a local hotel) or at off-times (e.g., Saturday evening)?

Sometimes the feeling of success that comes from a full room is the greatest enemy of expanding. What would happen if you moved to a larger site? Another enemy can be our emotional ties to certain spaces. Because deep feelings may exist, you must address this subject with caution and wisdom. The chemistry of any group may be tied to its location, and changing it can reverse some positive trends. Moving things frequently can destroy a ministry. If it works, leave it alone. If you see a need for change, be sure you allow time and have group agreement.

Adult ministries that are headed nowhere will usually get there. A program that is simply drifting through events and plodding through curriculum will either die in place or live in irrelevance. Such ministries are largely fruitless and very unattractive. They substitute activity (busyness) for impact in the real world.

Excellent ministries do not just happen. They are the product of a vision from heaven translated into intentional strategy on earth. In short, you build outstanding ministries with a clear philosophy and a specific plan.

How would you know if your ministry has a strategy?

Here are some important indicators:

* Do we have specific goals? What are they?
* Do we measure outcomes?
* Do we change when we need to?
* Do we have clearly defined values?
* Do we have a sense that we are doing something vital?
* Do we know whether we are succeeding or failing? How?
* Do we have a process for including newcomers?
* Do we have a process for achieving consensus?

If your answers to most of these questions are negative, it is time to take a long, hard look. Sometimes the best ideas are staring us right in the face. We know adults are highly motivated to learn but only if they feel they are learning the right things. In one study, 80 percent said their primary motivation for joining a study group was the need to learn applications and how-to information.

We know adults' demand for learning experiences is high. So why does ministry sometimes seem so difficult to engineer?

Perhaps we should review some obvious principles:

* The most capable persons should be in the most visible places.
* You should launch new groups regularly.
* You should do most of your stuff when most of your people are there.
* You should flow with what is natural, letting normal affinities draw people together.
* Every activity should involve some small group interaction.
* Arrange frequent activities that include fellowship and food.
* Emphasize Bible teaching.
* Your ministry should have an attractive catalog or flyer.
* Plan for a website and maintain it carefully.

Many adult ministries are unconsciously driving people away by handling them inappropriately. Solutions usually are not costly or complex. Christianity was designed and practiced by Galilean fishermen. And simple things are still the most important.


Earl Creps III, Ph.D., director of the doctor of ministry program at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary Springfield, Missouri, is the author of several books on Christian education, including "Investigating Commitment to Membership" (GPH).Promotion and Training Department .Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.