Friday, August 12, 2011

10 Reasons to Under-program Your Church

I'm a big fan of the "simple church" concept, but I have experienced just how daunting a task it can be to under-program my church. We are inundated constantly with opportunities for activity from other churches (which we don't want to turn down lest we appear uncooperative and standoffish), advertised "movements" local and national (which are good at getting people excited), and "good ideas" from our own community (which we are reluctant to deny lest we break someone's heart). But what all this so often amounts to is a church that is merely busy, and busy does not always equal diligent or successful.

Here, then, are 10 reasons to under-program a church:

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well. Craig Groeschel has some great things to say about this subject. Also check out Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger's Simple Church.

2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness. A bustling crowd may not be spiritually changed or engaged in mission at all. And as our flesh cries out for works, many times filling our programs with eager, even servant-minded people is a way to appeal to self-righteousness.

3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community. If we're all busy engaging our interests in and pursuits of different things, we will have a harder time enjoying the "one accord" prescribed by the New Testament.

4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the "Type-A family" mode of suburban achievers. The church can become a grocery store or more spiritual YMCA, then, perfect for people who want religious activities on their calendar.

5. Over-programming dilutes actual ministry effectiveness. Because it can overextend leaders, increase administration, tax the time of church members, and sap financial and material resources from churches.

6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body. Certainly there are legitimate reasons for gathering according to "likenesses," but many times increasing the number of programs means increasing the ways and frequencies of these separations. Pervasive segmentation is not good for church unity or spiritual growth.

7. Over-programming creates satisfaction in an illusion of success; meanwhile mission suffers. If a church looks like it's doing lots of things, we tend to think it's doing great things for God. When really it may just be providing lots of religious goods and services. This is an unacceptable substitute for a community on mission, but it's one we accept all the time. And the more we are engaged within the four walls of the church, whether those walls are literal or metaphorical, the less we are engaged in being salt and light. Over-programming reduces the access to and opportunities with my neighbors.

8. Over-programming reduces margin in the lives of church members. It's a fast track to burnout for both volunteers and attendees, and it implicitly stifles sabbath.

9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church. Here's a good test, I think: take a look at a typical over-programmed church's calendar and see how many of the activities resemble things seen in the New Testament.

10. Over-programming is usually the result of un-self-reflective reflex reactions to perceived needs and and an inability to kill sacred cows that are actually already dead. Always ask "Should we?" before you ask "Can we?" Always ask "Will this please God?" before you ask "Will this please our people?" Always ask "Will this meet a need?" before you ask "Will this meet a demand?"


Garrett Conner said...

Mark Dever taught me this as well. So thankful other guys, especially younger pastors are seeing this.
-Garrett Conner
Pastor - La Plata Baptist Church

Joshua Collins said...

I would add "Overprogramming keeps the mission force off the mission field."

At the church I previously worked at, one of the secretaries made a comment to me about how excited she was that there was something on the church calendar every night for a particular week.

I replied, "Yes, but if the Christians are here all week, who's building relationships with lost people?"

Anonymous said...

I would agree, I know one thing that I dislike is going to a church and getting a bulletin that is packed full of events and announcements, its somewhat overwhelming.

Dave said...

What methods have you found effective for de-programming an over-programmed church?

Anonymous said...

I have literally felt dead by program many times before. It did indelibly lead to burnout in almost evey occasion. I am taking time now to get to know The God I have professed to love for so long and give more time to my family (who also happen to be believers in Jesus Christ - praise God!). This is the first time I have ever heard anyone actually mention that a church can be (and perhaps too often is) over programmed. Love needs to guide all issues of course.

Chuck Dotson said...


Anonymous said...

Kind of like number 8:

Over-programming objectifies success criteria......yet Gospel-oriented ministry is almost completely subjective.

Anonymous said...

I actually disagree with this. The benefit of multiple ministries is that people in the church get to use their spiritual gifts to minister to one another. When the pastors are so concerned with the "pulpit ministry" (themselves), single-mindedness (keeping people focused on the pulpit ministry--there own) that they don't see a need for anyone else in the church to use their gifts, the people can't flourish.

As someone who has been involved with small reformed churches for many years, I've learned the danger of pastors who care far too much about their own ministry. In those cases, the primary job of a churchgoer is to fill a seat and look interested. But from my experience, this can often breed as much deadness as churches too full of programs.

Not everyone has the gift of evangelism. Many people have gifts that are meant to minister biblically to the body of Christ. When programs are set up to facilitate the exercise of spiritual gifts, they are a blessing to the church.

Then it's no longer about the pastor alone using his gifts, but a pastor who is actually equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.

Jared said...

Anonymous, there's two problems with your disagreement:

I nowhere set up the alternative that everybody just needs to do nothing and focus on the preacher's ministry. That's a straw man and a false dichotomy.

Also, your comment implies the only way to utilize one's gift(s) is in a formal church program.

My post is not meant to challenge any church programs, just the way many churches over-program.

Brian Shepherd said...

Garrett Connor is my hero. I love him.

ChristalandNate said...

just wondering if anyone can speak to the other side of things. what are some of the difficulties or dangers you've seen with under programming? I feel like there would seem to need to be some sort of balance...

appreciate it if anyone can speak to this

Hilary said...

As a Christian, I love to be involved in my church and congregation. I love to work with my fellow believers and grow closer to them through serving each other and the community. If there was a lack of programs or groups to get involved with, it would be hard to connect with my fellow believers and hard to my friends and the community involved and connected with the church.

Melanie said...

I like #8. If we as volunteers consider our Sunday gatherings as "go time" we lose the focus of what Sabbath really means.

I'm a little unclear on a few things, though. I hope someone will enlighten me:
* Does each congregation NEED the same "programs" as everyone else? If every congregation has the same, it creates competition in the body. What programs are vital and which ones are disposable (for lack of better words)?
* What are some suggestions of utilizing each congregation in the community based on their strengths? I live in an area where there are 50 churches in a 20-mile radius. There are old churches and there are new churches. Is there a way to bridge the gap between them?
* Being in an area where there is literally a church on every street corner, there are MANY denominations. Any suggestions on breaking these denominational boundaries?
* If an old church were to reduce the number of programs, which should be cut first? Is there a priority?
* Should children's programs be cut as a means of getting families to worship together? (This could get sticky.)
* Would it be more feasible (as well as biblical) to encourage the church to grow as a father/mother leadership than a pastor/elder board leadership? (I realize this question may raise a few eyebrows, and can explain further if an interest is peaked.)

As much as I agree the church should never be known for the programs they have, I'm not seeing many practical steps to make it happen.

Thanks for the post, Jared! It's sparking a myriad of thoughts in my mind. Blessings to you!

Lee said...

I understand having too many programs, but Hilary and I agree. I've read The Simple Church and it seems to only fit one group of people-those still needing to be trained in ministry. It reminded me of public education: move the whole class along, graduate them ,move the next class in. Since our church doesn't (and won't?) have a womans group or any of the other kind of ministries I can get involved in, I don't see how I'll make connections in our church. As for ministries-I'm a mom of seven-some of whom are unsaved and having hard times,grandma,confidant to several disadvantaged young people, friend to several handicapped people who need constant help, part of the safety net for friends with money/family problems, and there is NO LACK of ministering work on my plate already!I guess I'm saying: church must also be a place for believers to connect with other believers, because we are so swamped with the ministries God has already provided for us.