Have you ever felt like your church was moving in a thousand different directions and often spinning its wheels to little or no effect? Have you ever felt like the various ministries of your church are each out there on their own doing their own good work but with little regard for how they fit into a much larger puzzle? Have you ever felt like the only thing bringing your various ministries together is the name on the sign out front? Have you ever felt like your church is simply overwhelmed by trying to adopt and implement every new idea that comes to the table?
You are not alone! Many churches today are experiencing burnout in the process of trying to be all things to all people (in the way Paul expresses in 1 Cor. 10). While we truly hope to address the needs of as many people as we can, we simply often lack the resources and the bandwidth to move in every possible direction.
Let me give you a couple of ideas if this sounds like you.
What is the KEY PIECE?
Several years ago I knew a couple that was making plans for a new house – their first one. They had been apartment living up to this point, so it was almost like they were starting from scratch. They had the basic plan. They knew how they wanted to live in their house, and they knew what they wanted their new house to do for them. But they had gotten to the point of needing to pick finishes and colors for the walls, floorings, lighting fixtures, and furnishings.
“Where in the world do we start?” they asked an interior decorator.
The decorator replied, “I want you to go shopping – not for carpets and colors, not for sofas and window shades, not for bedding and pictures. No, I want you to shop for one key piece that truly expresses what you want reflected in your house. It could be a picture, it could be a really cool piece of furniture, it could be something else. But whatever it is, it should really reflect who you are and who you want to be as you live in this house.”
So they shopped and shopped. Eventually, they found a painting of an Appalachian mountain landscape. They loved the mountains, the natural colors, and the natural stone that would eventually weave its way into their home’s presentation of itself. The key piece — the painting — hung over their fireplace, and everything else in the home somehow picked up on something out of that painting — through either color or character. That key piece brought it all together.
That should be true in your church. There really ought to be a key piece. What is there in your church that, outside your identity as a Christian church, best expresses who you are? What in your church is the thing that brings everybody together? In many, if not most, churches it is the worship setting. But in your church it might be a small group discipleship program that touches even more people than your worship. Or it might be a church-wide discipleship pathway that you are encouraging your congregants to live out. Or it might be a feature in your worship space – a baptismal font or pulpit, for example, or the act of Holy Communion itself.
But here’s the deal — that key piece needs to be recognized as the key piece, and all other parts of the church-wide ministry should draw upon the “color or character” of that key piece. And all other parts should point to the key piece, as they all combine to point to God.
Many churches find it helpful to spend a significant amount of time and energy in establishing that key component. It often emerges as the church casts its vision for what God is calling it to be and do in the next decade or so. Some churches have volunteer personnel or staff that are fully capable of leading such a venture. If that is not the case in your church though, there are excellent ministry consultants, including Ministry Architects, with the experience and expertise necessary to help lead you through it.
How deep will you go?
Once you know what your key piece is, you have to decide how deeply you expect it to be reflected in the various ministries of the church. Let me use a fictitious youth ministry example…
The Church of the Holy Redeemer is a ten year old church plant with contemporary worship that drives the work of the church and is the KEY PIECE in its ministry, reaching 1,000 worship participants per week on two campuses. The worship is excellently produced and is well-planned on an eighteen month calendar (though with the freedom to deviate in response to urgent issues or trends). Because of its eighteen month planning window, Holy Redeemer has the opportunity to incorporate its worship themes into other aspects of its ministry, including its ministry with young people.
Several questions have to be asked if the youth ministry is to reflect the color and character of Holy Redeemer’s worship …
- Should 6th through 12th graders at Holy Redeemer be simply incorporated into the church’s main worship setting?
- Should these young people have their own similar worship setting that reflects the same themes as the congregational worship?
- Should the overall worship themes be incorporated into the discipleship planning for other components of the youth ministry?
- In what other ways will the youth ministry reflect the “color and character” of the church’s identity?
- Should a church-wide discipleship pathway be developed as a new key piece around which all components will revolve?
A word of caution…
Questions like these give rise to important conversations within the Church and often reflect the push and pull of church leadership, both lay and clergy. If not carefully and respectfully addressed, these types of questions can also distract the church from its ministry and mission, where it ends up sacrificing its main-thing ministry upon the altar of planning, programs, and slick presentations.
It is important to know who you are and to know what best reflects who you are as a church. Otherwise, you may be caught in the trap of trying to be all things to all people. If you have the resources and bandwidth to attempt it, God bless you in your efforts! If not, find the key piece and dare to take it as deeply as God is leading you.