7 Practices of Effective Ministry
7 Practices of Efffective Ministry by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner,
Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. But the reverse is also true: People tend to stop showing up when an organization is not winning. Nothing will empty seats faster than a losing streak.
Keeping score helps everyone involved stay informed about the condition of the organization. It's just that in some organizations it's easier to know whether or note you're winning.
Most churches do not have a reliable system for defining and measuring what success looks like at every level of the organization. Instead they post some general statistics that give them a vague sense of progress or failure as a church, and then go through the motions of continuing to do ministry the way they always have, productive or not. Thus it is possible for a church to become very efficient at doing ministry ineffectively.
Nothing hinders morale more than when team members with separate agendas are pulling against one another. When this happens, it's usually because those in charge have not taken the time necessary to clarify the win for their team.
Every one of us has a God-given itch to belong to something that is bigger than ourselves. Volunteers need to know that their investment of time is going to make a difference. They will work hard and make incredible sacrifices as long as they know what the goal is and that what they're doing actually counts; they simply desire to find meaning and significance in their work. No one likes to go through the motions just doing mental tasks. Everyone needs to clearly understand what they are accomplishing.
But countless leaders have innocently sabotaged their church by leading people in the wrong direction. And the fault lies with an organization that has not been systematic about defining and clarifying what a win really is.
You see, misalignment usually happens gradually. And if it goes unchecked, it can wreak havoc on an organization.
Misalignment is sometimes just a natural result of growth. People start showing up and they join your church with pictures of what they think church should look like.
Effective leaders constantly hold up clear pictures of what the church is supposed to be, so that everyone understands what it is not supposed to be.
As the church grows and the organization becomes more complex, it means they have to decide how to divide their resources among multiple ministries.
Most of us are aware of programs that have been funded for years but have made little or no real impact. That's one more reason it is important to understand what is and what is not working.
When you have established a culture where the win is clear, the wins tend to happen more frequently. There is a lot to be said for the energetic atmosphere that happens when an organization wins consistently.
Winning motivates a team. As long as they're winning, people will give you their time, their money, and their hearts. And when you are winning consistently, the staff and volunteers in your organization tend to:
...be less negative
...trust the leadership
...give more generously
"You can't manage what you can't measure." Don't make the mistake of clarifying a win in terms that are too general. When you do, you cheat everyone in your organization and you fail to establish an effective way to measure your success.
The more consistent we were at communicating the win for every program and department, the easier it was to keep our leaders and volunteers from taking unintended detours. Whatever we are using as a scoreboard needs to be in constant view of our leaders.
But few organizations have summed up in a simple phrase what a win looks like at every level of the organization. You can't stop at the top of the organization. The principle will only help you become more effective if the practice is carried through to the levels where practical ministry is happening.
What was your last "win"? How did it affect attitudes throughout your organization?
Discuss any areas in your organization where volunteers may be confused or frustrated because the win is unclear.
Brainstorm some creative ways to communicate the win within your organization.
It all seems right. It even feels productive. But there is no overall strategy and no runners are moving toward home. The question they should be asking is not Are we hitting the ball? But rather Are we getting on base? Are we going in the right direction? Are we getting closers to home plate?
When you "think steps" there is a fundamental difference in your perspective. Now the primary goal is not to meet someone's need, but rather to help someone get where they need to go. Notice how the same dictionary defines a step: "one of a series of actions, processes, or measures taken to achieve a goal." A step is part of a series of actions that systematically take a person somewhere.
When you think steps you start by asking, "Where do we want people to be?" That question is followed by a second, more strategic question: "How are we going to get them there?" The result is a ministry that works as a step -- it has been created to lead someone somewhere. This way of thinking makes a lot of sense in the light of what the church is called to do.
Often, churches have a tendency to hold so many studies or classes that they end up holding hands with their adults too long. It's like a baseball team that keeps leaving runners on first. If classes don't keep people moving, if the classes are not viewed as steps, they can actually work against helping people grow spiritually.
The bottom line is, we found our answer to the question, "Where do we want people to be?" And once we knew the answer to that question, we began to spend time creating strategies to lead people there. The small group became our "home plate." It was the best place for individuals to experience ministry, accountability, and life change. And so we determined not to start any new ministry or environment until we could determine how it would lead people to experience group life. We started thinking in terms of steps, not programs.
Whether is's a small group, a worship service, or a classroom, once you have defined the optimal environment where you think people can be discipled, then everything else you do should be positioned to help them get there.
There are several organizational advantages to thinking steps, not programs. Here are just a few: You encourage your teams to depend on each other. You discourage individuals from becoming territorial. You erase the hard lines that exist between departments. You are more likely to uncover anything that is not working. You become more intentional about simplifying what you do. You position leaders to constantly think in terms of the big picture.
A program is usually disconnected from other programs and can easily become an island unto itself. A step, on the other hand, is usually connected in an interdependent relationship to the other environments within the organization. By its very nature, a step's success is tied to the organization's success.
Where is the ultimate destination in your organization for adults to experience life change? What about students? Children?
The sobering truth is that many of us weaken our potential by investing too much time in the areas of our lives where we have the least potential. It seems logical. Even justifiable. After all, shouldn't we work hard at improving the areas in which we are weakest?
If you really want to make a lasting impact, then you need to eliminate what you do well for the sake of what you can potentially do best. Devoting a little of yourself to everything means committing a great deal of yourself to nothing."
What is true for individuals is also true for organizations: There is a natural tendency to drift toward complexity.
So much of what they do divides their resources and their focus, thus creating a barrier to real growth: You have to do less if you want to grow more. And if you do more, chances are you will grow less.
But when a leader fears the consequences of eliminating a program more than the long-term effects of keeping a program, the result can be costly. Failing to eliminate programs that need to be purged can stunt a church's growth and tie up important resources. When a leader lacks the courage to make necessary changes, the future potential of the entire organization is put on hold.
So we become tenacious about staying simple. In fact, you might be surprised at some of the things we don't do. For example, we don't have a Christian school, midweek services, men and women's ministries, a children's choir, adult Sunday school, Easter or Christmas pageants, or a recreation ministry.
It's not that anything is wrong with any of these programs. There's just not enough room in or organization to do them and be effective as we think we need to be with other programs. So we require extensive documentation and layers of meetings before a new program can be started.
Narrowing your focus means creating environments as distinctive brands.
You must decide which image you want to become primary in the minds of the target audience you are trying to reach. You have to identify for them what you are selling. Are you trying to get people to buy into your church? Or are you trying to get them to buy into an environment that is relevant?
The truth is that church by its nature is a very general concept. And most people are not looking for a church; otherwise, churches would be full of visitors every week. What people are looking for is something that is relevant to their marriage, their family, their personal lives. What they are looking for is something that works for them as individuals. And that is something specific, not general.
What you can do, however, is change the image of your church by creating environments that are attractive and helpful for someone's season of life. When your priority is creating environments instead of marketing your church, you will make a greater impact on what your community thinks about your church.
The same is true in organization. When you reduce the responsibility and activity of your church, you enable your staff to become individual specialists. The goal of any organization should be to develop a team of people who are experts in their area of work. This is why some churches are able to achieve a certain level of excellence, while others continue to be mired in mediocre programming.
The more you focus each environment, the greater the relevance.
The more you focus each environment, the better the connection.
The more you focus each environment, the higher the quality.
The more you focus each environment, the stronger the impact.
Is there an effective program that you should eliminate because it is preventing a more important program from becoming more effective?
Are there activities or programs that have become barriers to excellence in your organization.
Most people don't learn just so they can know more; they learn when they need to know something. So communicators and teachers have a critical responsibility: they must make sure they know what people really need to learn. And in some situations, they need to spend time making sure people understand why they need to learn something. It's the only way a teacher can expect any student to learn.
Why? Because you have a limited amount of time to communicate with these people. And when it comes to information, all knowledge is not equal. There are facts that would be nice to know, and then there is information that is really interesting. But much more important, there's a body of knowledge that is critical for certain individuals in your organization to understand.
You have to teach with the end in mind. "Think Steps, Not Programs" answers the question "Where do you want people to be?" whereas "Teach Less for More" answers the question "What do you want people to become?"
The context of ministry tends to be more demanding that the content. Sunday comes every week, and there are a lot of "urgent" needs screaming at a leader. Most of it has to do with the context of ministry. You have to select music, arrange the room, coordinate technical needs, find more leaders, and so on. But what if you could spend at least an equal amount of time each week on what is actually to be taught? In fact, the context should become secondary to the content. Everything about your environment -- the songs, the decor, the video, the signage -- should reinforce the content.
When you're looking over your lesson or sermon notes, the question to ask yourself is not....
Is it true?
Is it interesting?
Is it creative?
Is it passionate?
Is it entertaining?
Instead, ask yourself, Is it helpful? If it isn't helpful, then it isn't relevant.
We're not suggesting imbalance, nor are we suggesting you be careless. You should lead your church to invest in outsiders strategically. You should strive to find the delicate balance between facilitating the growth of believer and reaching those who are unchurched. But don't make the mistake of piling up excuses and saddling your ministry with an insider mindset that paralyzes your potential to reach outsiders. To many churches a hiding behind what is convenient and comfortable while an entire generation is being left in the dark.
The "invest and invite" strategy has radically changed our approach to evangelism. Many of us grew up in churches that taught evangelism classes, gave altar calls, handed out tracts, and sent members to knock on the doors of strangers. However, none of these approaches effectively mobilized the majority of members to become personally involved in reaching the unchurched. To the average believer, most of these techniques seemed too confrontational or awkward. And so the responsibility for evangelism was usually assumed by a handful of trained "experts."
Lifestyle evangelism works in concert with the way relationships naturally happen, and it is something that most every believer can do.
There is only one problem. This approach can come up short for a number of reasons. For example, every believer speaks from a different level of spiritual maturity. What do you do when you have taken a friend as far as you can? Where does your friend go then? How do you explain issues you may not feel equipped to explain? That's why we say "invest and invite." The invite allows the believer to bring a friend into an environment where such issues can be addressed.
Every leader needs to take an honest, objective look at anything that may create a barrier to the growth of the church's staff and volunteers. Consider the possibility: The same characteristics that make a leader effective may also adversely affect his or her ability to reproduce other leaders.
Instead of asking the question, "What keeps me from growing as a leader?" you should spend more time asking, "What keeps those around me from growing as leaders?"
Most leaders are complimented and compensated according to their ability to innovate, create, produce, manage, and perform. The reason they don't practice replacing themselves is because it is rarely applauded.
The practice of "replacing yourself" is critical to the longevity of any organization, but if you want the practice to become a habit in your church, you must recognize and reward it when it happens.
We consider our volunteer force to be our most critical resource. They hold the keys to the fulfillment of our vision for leading people into a growing relationship with Christ.
But if you can successfully inspire your existing volunteers to replace themselves, volunteerism has the opportunity to grow exponentially.
A simple announcement or church bulletin insert is rarely successful in finding volunteers. Why? Because leaders don't volunteer; they are recruited. They respond to a personal invitation, not a general announcement.
The point is that you should not let what you don't know keep you from apprenticing someone. Your responsibility is to teach what you do know.
Three Steps to Handing It Off
1. Break It down
2. Hand It Off
3. Let It Go
Those of us who work in ministry are no different. No matter how long we've served, no matter how many sermons we've preached, no matter how many successful ministries we've launched -- if we are not consistently evaluating both our performance and our strategies, at some point we will begin to swing and miss.
For most of us, our margin is what's left over after we've finished doing everything we have to do. It's an afterthought. But for margin to be effective, it has to be an integral part of your overall plan. At the outset, you have to schedule consistent times to break away from the battle and assess your plan as well as your performance. No matter how hard you try, it simply can't be done as you go."
Sometimes it's hard to smell something if you're surrounded by it every day. It's like coming home after a week's vacation -- when you walk in the door, you recognize an odor that had become so familiar, you had stopped smelling it. You can't evaluate something if you stay in the middle of it too long. You can't help but miss some things. Things you've seen for so long that you just don't see them anymore. Things that have started to decay and you've become accustomed to the smell.
"What did you see, hear, or experience this week that makes you feel we have successfully fulfilled our mission?" The stories we share in response tell us that we have successfully "worked on it"; we recognize that when the stories stop coming, it means we are no longer being effective.
When you have carved out margin to work on a specific areas, you have created an environment where you can turn over the rocks and confront what Jim Collins calls "the brutal facts." During such times, everyone on our staff is encouraged to make suggestions and everyone takes suggestions. These are often times of intense dialogue and debate and at times there are tears. there are no sacred cows or sacred programs. Everything is up for debate and must be defended against our mission and values. This is one of the ways we stay aligned with our purpose. At the end of the day, when the dust settles, we have asked the tough questions and hopefully arrived at the right answers.
A word of warning: Common sense tells us that open and honest debate creates the potential for negative impact on relationships. In order to keep your staff from paying the price relationally, you must develop an atmosphere of trust throughout your team.
At North Point we not only evaluate our effectiveness by sharing stories, we share our stories to celebrate those involved. It is a unique chance for ministries to publicly acknowledge and thank their peers who've played a pivotal role in making a great story happen. We've seen many people from our facilities and administration areas moved to tears when they hear a "frontline" ministry share how their faithfulness in small things has resulted in a life being changed in a big way.
You ministry is perfectly designed to achieve the results you are currently getting. If you are satisfied with your results, then there is no sense in complicating your life with these seven practices.