Seven practices of effective ministry

seven_practices_of_effective_ministrySeven practices of effective ministry describes the philosophy of ministry at North Point Community Church in Atlanta. Andy Stanley, Lane Jones, and Reggie Joiner challenge their readers not to keep adding more and more programs before carefully evaluating the ones they already have. Churches have limited resources and they need to be allocated and used wisely. They have identified seven practices to assist in evaluating existing and proposed programs. These practices aren’t about telling churches what they should or shouldn’t do. They’re about equipping churches to ask helpful questions to determine what programs to start, what to improve, and what to stop.

#1 Clarify the win

Define what is important at every level of the organization

Clarifying the win means communicating to our team what is really important. This is essential to keep our team from guessing what a win looks like. We don’t want people following the loudest or most persuasive voice, simply because they haven’t been given clarity about what matters most. It doesn’t help if leaders are all defining the win to suit themselves. The church needs to be clear about what it’s doing, what is expected, and why. Clarifying the win helps your team stay on the same page. As the church grows it’s easy for things to get out of alignment. Effective leaders keep holding up a picture of what the church is supposed to be, and calling people back to this picture. This tends to build a positive momentum for ministry. It also helps us to use our limited resources wisely according to what is and what isn’t working.

There are four key steps to clarifying the win.

  1. Sum up the win in a simple phrase.
  2. Keep the win as specific as possible.
  3. Restate the win frequently and creatively.
  4. Meet to clarify the win at every level

#2 Think steps, not programs

Before you start anything, make sure it takes you where you need to go

Many churches adopt or design programs to meet the needs of members, but few develop clear steps to help move people where they want them to go.

  • A program is defined as ‘a system of services, opportunities, or projects, usually designed to meet a social need.’
  • A step is defined as ‘one of a series of actions, processes, or measures taken to achieve a goal.’

We need to ask ‘Where do we want people to be?’ and then ‘How are we going to get them there?’ These questions help us to focus on growing followers of Jesus. They get us thinking specifically about spiritual growth and the building of relationships in our churches.

Effective steps have three characteristics.

  1. Every step should be easy. If it’s too much of a jump, then people won’t move forward.
  2. Every step has to be obvious. People don’t like stepping into the unknown. They need to understand where to go next. Communicating the steps and their importance is essential.
  3. Every step must be strategic. It needs to lead somewhere. Once we know the specific destination that we want to lead people to, then the steps must clearly move them in that direction.

As we think more about steps and less about programs, synergy grows in our church and ministry teams. People are required to depend on each other, and the silo mentality becomes less of a problem. We’re more likely to see what’s not working and to work together to simplify our processes.

#3 Narrow the focus

Do fewer things in order to make a greater impact

A lot of churches are doing too much, but failing to reach more people. They have A.D.D. Over the years the number of programs grows and grows and effectiveness is diluted.

Here are four reasons churches drift into complexity, making it difficult to simplify their structures.

  1. Some churches have bought into a ministry ‘menu’ philosophy.
  2. Churches feel constant pressure to provide programs on the basis of needs.
  3. Individuals have been allowed to build their identity around a program, not a mission.
  4. Church leaders fear the fallout of eliminating certain programs.

The challenge is to simplify things. We need to learn to say ‘no’ to ideas and ministries that take away from our core focus. Sometimes things that are still working adequately need to be replaced by other things that will potentially work better. We need to design what we do to reach and connect with people effectively. As we narrow the focus of our ministries, relevance increases, people become better connected, quality improves as we try to do less things  better, and we have a stronger impact on our communities.

#4: Teach less for more

Say only what you need to say to the people who need to hear it

We all experience information overload. The danger is that our churches just add to the noise. We need to rethink what and how we communicate.

There are four steps to teaching less for more.

  1. Decide what you are going to say
  2. Decide to say one thing at a time
  3. Decide how you are going to say it
  4. Say it over and over again

These ideas are developed more fully in Communicating for a change.

#5: Listen to outsiders

Focus on who you’re trying to reach, not who you’re trying to keep

Some of us have been in church for so long, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to never attend. We have believed what we believe for so long, we don’t know how an unbeliever thinks anymore.  (p142)

Our churches should be on about helping believers grow and reaching unbelievers. The problem is it’s easier to look inside than outside. North Point Community Church developed a strategy to reach people in their community. They called it ‘Invest and Invite’. Every member is encouraged to make a personal investment in someone’s life and invite them to one of the church’s ministry environments. The responsibility of the church is to create the effective environments for their members to bring people.

This has led to members being more attuned to what an outsider would hear and experience when they come to church. They want to create a positive first impression of church and to make people feel at home. They’re keen for the teaching to be clear and understandable.

Billions of dollars are spent by organisations seeking to understand their market. Churches at least need to listen to the people who aren’t there. When we listen to outsiders, we begin to see our church in a whole new light.

#6: Replace yourself

Learn to hand off what you do

If you fail to develop a strategy to replace yourself, you will…

  • force talented individuals to remain in the wings
  • cause potential leaders to exit the organisation
  • stifle needed insight from valuable team members
  • hinder your ability to recruit volunteers
  • limit the growth of your programs and ministries  (p160)

Succession planning is important. We won’t be leaders forever. Now is the time to use our opportunities to influence and shape those who will come after us. Teaching what we know by apprenticing others helps the ongoing transition of people into leadership roles. If leaders set the example of investing in future leaders, this gets modelled through the church. Every area of ministry should be focused on building leaders for the future. This is critical to sustaining and building long term ministry.

Successfully handing off leadership requires three steps.

  1. Break it down into clear and doable steps
  2. Hand it off. You are giving something away. Many thoughts and emotions will be going on inside of you. Let the new person make their own mistakes and their own progress.
  3. Let it go. Move on. Trust the new guy!

#7: Work on it

Take time to evaluate your work and to celebrate your wins

Self-evaluation is an important practice that must be pursued intentionally. We need to examine what is working and what’s not. It’s not likely to happen effectively unless we build evaluation into our calendars on a regular basis. We need to stop, look back, and review. We need to step outside of our work and take a look at it.

They describe this as ‘creating margin’. It can happen on a weekly basis to evaluate regular activities. It can be done less regularly to review the bigger picture.

When we evaluate, we will discover areas that need improvement. This often means people get threatened when their areas are critiqued. It’s essential to build an environment of trust where we commit to these reviews for the sake of our common goals.

It’s also important to celebrate the successes. Saying thank you publicly is very powerful. Sharing stories builds energy and gratitude for what God is doing.

Review

This book is a helpful tool for assessing the organisational health of our churches. It pushes us to seek clarity and simplicity. It urges us to make a priority of encouraging people to grow in their knowledge and love of God, and to understand how they can serve God in this particular church context. 

My experience of church is that everyone tends to be busy. Busyness is not a virtue. We can be very busy doing nothing of value. Churches can be very busy, but unclear where they’re headed or why. This book is a call to identify what things really matter, what our churches must focus upon, and how we are going to do it. Then we can help people to serve God together.

If you feel that your church is chasing its tail and you’re not quite sure why you’re doing what you’re doing, then this book should help you to ask some good questions.

I found the emphasis on steps rather than programs to be particularly useful. Instead of being content with a smorgasbord of unrelated ministries, it’s more important to be clear and intentional on how one thing relates to another. This encourages us to think about where we want people to end up. How do we want people to grow and change? What will assist this to happen? What do we hope for children over the seven years they might spend in Kingdom Kids (Sunday School)? How do we help people find their way into the life of our church, join a growth group, serve in a ministry team? It helps us to build pathways and show the way ahead. We’ve more work to do on this front – but it is happening!

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