As a child, TGIF was a big part of my family’s weekly routine. At 8 p.m. every Friday night, we would huddle in front of our 19-inch TV to watch the Tanner and Winslow families navigate life. Steve Urkel would whine, “Did I do that?” and Jesse would make us all smile with his, “Have Mercy!” The biggest laughs always came when Joey would say his catch phrase, “Cut it out.” It was his way of saying stop, you’re embarrassing me . . . but don’t really stop.
It’s interesting how preparing for this blog post about pruning programs for ministry led me to a childhood memory. When the to-do list seems insurmountable and there aren’t enough volunteers to make it all happen, most of us would say we are open to the idea of scaling back programming. We’re open to it . . . until it’s time to actually make the required changes. Cutting back in ministry is extremely difficult because people have come to expect what we offer. Families have fallen in love with pieces of our ministry. Volunteers have grown to enjoy the routine they’ve established. Most of the time, change doesn’t feel like opportunity, it feels like sacrifice.
Several years ago, my wife and I served at a church plant in East Tennessee. We had seen incredible growth in a very short amount of time. We attributed a lot of that growth to key events we sponsored in the community. It wasn’t long before we became known as the “Events Church.” With that title looming over us, we pushed to do additional events. “Events” took over our church calendar. Then something happened. We stopped growing. For a couple years we stayed flat, but here’s the crazy thing, we kept doing the same events because we had always done them, the Trunk or Treat, Easter Eggstravaganza, Christmas in the Community Celebration, Summer Splash Days, etc. Let me be clear, these events were top notch. Attendance was high. Compliments poured out, but our church had stopped growing.
It took us a while, probably too long, to meet as an executive team to consider what changes had to be made. We refocused on our mission for the church “to make fully devoted followers of Jesus,” and we started cutting everything that didn’t help us fulfill that mission. We freed up space on our church calendar for implementing fresh ideas, and we said goodbye to many of those sacred events we were so well known for. It sounds easier than it was. We even had families show up to our church on Halloween Night looking for candy because we were “the church that did the awesome trunk thing.” The changes were tough, but by refocusing our efforts and finding more strategic ways to care for the people God had entrusted to us, we began to grow again.
“Maybe the most strategic thing you could do for your families is to stop doing something.” – Reggie Joiner, Think Orange
If we are going to be effective in ministry, laser-like focus is required. It’s impossible to make everything excellent when your plate is not just full, but overflowing with programming. More often than not, I find we leave little room for God to move because we’ve programmed the life out of our ministry. Maybe it’s time to “cut it out.” You just need to decide what it is.
- Start by making a list of everything your ministry does for kids or students. The list is probably longer than you think.
- Ask other leaders within your ministry to independently create their own list of everything your ministry does.
- Start to talk about the time, energy, effort and resources it requires to successfully execute each program.
- Based on the fruit you are seeing in your ministry decide what needs to be cut.