Here’s something I’ve learned recently: Every program, ministry and even church has a life cycle.
It’s either picking up steam or running out of energy.
It really has nothing to do with how long a church, ministry or program has been around; rather it's all about energy.
A few times a year, we gather key leadership for a strategic conversation. Part of this conversation includes evaluating every ministry and program in our church and placing each in one of four categories.
Occasionally, when we all agree that a ministry or program is tanking, we are faced with a tough decision and there really are only two options:
Is it time to revive this or time to end this?
It sounds kind of harsh but choosing to tolerate or ignore a tanking ministry or program is just delaying the inevitable.
So, here’s a question: How do you know when it’s time to end a ministry or program?
Here are six indicators.
1. It isn’t Connected to the Mission
When it comes to Church, there really is only one mission and it’s the mission that Jesus left us with: Make Disciples.
If we aren’t making disciples then, quite frankly, we’re doing it wrong.
The easiest way to evaluate whether a program or ministry needs to end is asking, “Is it making disciples?” Often a program used to make disciples back in the day but has drifted or become ineffective.
Again, the only real options here are revitalize or end the program in question.
2. There is no Scoreboard
Imagine a football game in which there are two teams, fans in the stands, refs in striped shirts and a giant game clock but no scoreboard.
How would anyone know who is winning or losing? At this point, the game has lost its purpose.
It’s a ridiculous scenario to imagine but also is exactly how we do often do ministry.
What’s the purpose of each program or ministry and how do we know if we are winning?
Each program or ministry should have an agreed upon goal and also a scoreboard for how to determine whether or not the program or ministry is successful.
I’ll use our student ministry as an example. The goal of our student ministry is to ground students’ identity in Jesus. That’s the win for us.
And how do we know if we are winning? There are a few ways we keep score:
- Did our ministry grow by 10%
- Do we have an adult small group leader for every 6-8 students?
- Did 90% or more of our leaders attend the last night of ministry?
If the ministry or program we are evaluating has no scoreboard then it might be time to revitalize it or end it.
If the way forward is still unclear, I would suggest agreeing upon a scoreboard for the ministry for a season and then reevaluating.
3. It Competes with our Strategic Focus
All too often, we compete against ourselves. The strategy of a few decades ago is still around competing against the strategy of today.
The clearest example I can think of is "adult Sunday school" vs "adult small groups". Sorry of this one hits a little too close to home...
It’s not that one is necessarily a question of what is more effective (both Sunday school and small groups can help produce disciples) but rather it's a question of focus.
Are you encouraging people to attend a Sunday school or are you encouraging them to join a small group?
One clear strategy that everyone understands is far more effective than two competing strategies that people choose from. When two programs are competing, it’s likely time for the less effective program to end.
4. There are Smarter Options
There are obviously many ways to do ministry, which is why we have so many churches and programs.
It is also true that some ministry options are far more economical than others.
A few years ago, we made the decision to alter our missions focus in our student ministry.
While taking students to places like Ukraine and Africa led to incredible results, we realized that we could achieve similar results by taking students to Central America and the Caribbean within our own hemisphere and therefore save thousands and thousands of dollars in travel expenses.
By adjusting our destinations, we cut our missions budget in half.
These kinds of decisions don’t just apply to mission (or even money for that matter).
We recently adjusted how we do retreats and camps because we realized how many hours it cost our team to prepare and execute.
Often, when evaluating a program or ministry, we come to the realization that there are smarter options. I think it’s wise to consistently evaluate by asking:
“Is there a smarter way to do this?”
5. It Requires Too Much from Families
Recently we evaluated all of our programs and ministries based on how many times we were asking families to participate in something church related in a week.
The result was pretty embarrassing. Between all of our ministries it was astounding how much we were asking of families just to be engaged with our church.
In the end we decided to prune a bunch of programs and implemented a new event scheduling process to keep ourselves from overscheduling families.
6. Your Main Concern is What “They” Will Think
The last indicator that you probably need to end a program or ministry is fear-based.
Often we delay ending a program because we’re worried what “they” will think. Often “they” have been around forever. “They” have a loud voice in the church and we know “they” will make some noise if we take away their pet program.
Here’s the truth: We’ll never make everyone happy.
There will always been people who are upset with some decision or other that we made.
We are called to lead and leadership often requires difficult decisions because staying on mission is deeply challenging.
People and organizations never drift toward mission, we drift away from mission and our job as leaders is to direct our people back to the mission.
So there you go: 6 indicators that it might be time to end a program or ministry.
We’d love to hear if any of these items have been particularly useful in your own church or if there's additional indicators church's might want to consider. Feel free to leave a comment below.