Posts Tagged ‘church ministry’

The pre-start and the start-up phases of any new ministry are hard, but exhilarating. Typically, you have the most passionate and the most committed people involved, so these Starters are willing to do whatever it takes.  Starters are heart, soul, and mind committed!

As the start-up continues, the Friends of the Starters observe the commitment and enthusiasm—as well as the results that follow the  do-whatever-it-takes efforts of the Starters, so they join up and become a part of the ministry—with equal enthusiasm, but not necessarily with equal commitment as the Starters.  But the ministry has grown because both Starters and First Volunteers are part of the ministry, and it appears to have a great future.

A small cloud looms on the horizon, however. First Volunteers do enjoy the work of the ministry; however, they did not come into the ministry to recruit, but to serve. The reluctance to recruit in this second phase means there are fewer Second Volunteers than First Volunteers.

The Second Volunteers are the friends typically of the First Volunteers. They really enjoy working together, so now the First and Second Volunteers merge into a pretty wonderful, but fairly self-contained group—so they recruit no one else and there are almost no Third Volunteers for the ministry.

This promising ministry is completely unaware that it is in a crisis it may not survive! With no new volunteers, no one takes the place of the Second and Third Volunteers that have to drop out for quite normal reasons.  Attrition is predictable.  Typically, Starters and First Volunteers just step into the gaps because they still are doing whatever it takes.

Then more Second Volunteers and some First Volunteers step out—and Starters start pushing everyone to recruit more Volunteers—but especially the Second and Third Volunteers did not commit to the ministry to be recruiters—so they talk to a friend or two, but that is it.

For many ministries, this is the almost predictable slide into an inevitable conclusion—a whimpering end of the ministry with many regrets. I’m sure you have observed some recognizable version of this story in your own church, if not your own attempts at ministries.

Here are a few suggestions for breaking this pattern and prolonging the effective life of your ministry!

1. You never have enough new people! If the ideal number of workers is 10, then seek 20 and plan on seeking replacements continually.  If the ministry does not have a recruiting strategy , purposefully and intentionally organized to bring in new people, it will not survive long.

2. Those involved in the ministry are the best recruiters. Every volunteer can be asked to be a recruiter. Some will be better than others, but every new person should feel some responsibility for recruiting others.

3. Keep recruiting personal. Pulpit announcements, videos, church bulletin announcements can create some general name recognition of the ministry, but one person tapping another on the shoulder saying, “Come go with me” will yield greater results.

4. Teach volunteers how to expand their circle of friends. Most workers invite their immediate friends—and then they stop because to talk to others is outside of their comfort zone. One way to expand their circles is to help them recognize other points of contact at church that exist, but that they do not necessarily think of right away. For instance:

  1. Parents of their children’s friends
  2. People who sit in seats near them at church services
  3.  Common demographic groups at church—parents of teens, retired, but still active, stay-at-home moms.
  4. New people at church who have yet to be plugged into a group or ministry.

5.  Utilize the best recruiters among your volunteers! Former cheerleaders (like Sherrylee) are much better recruiters than bookworms (me!).  Use people’s natural talents. It may be more important for someone to Sherrylee to recruit than any other task in your ministry!

How long the ministry will thrive and survive depends to some extent on the ability of the Starters to recognize the need for expanding its circle of friends.  The earlier in the ministry that friend-building becomes a part of the model, the greater chance of blessed longevity the ministry will have.


Reposted from September 2010


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You are not the preacher. You are not the head of anything at church. But you have just started a great ministry  or you have a great ministry idea that you would like to see get traction and grow.  What do you do now? Here are a few tips from our experience of trying to get Let’s Start Talking established in lots of churches. This is what we have learned from watching people enthusiastic about short-term missions try to work with their home congregation.

  1. Don’t even start unless you are committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed yourself! Lots of people want to start things for other people to do. Just forget it! You should be able to accomplish the ministry yourself—at some level—or you will never get others to buy into it. For LST, this means that if you are not willing to go, you will not be successful in getting other people to go.
  2. Try to get the blessing of church leadership from the very beginning. If the preacher and/or church leaders are opposed to your ministry idea, it is not likely to survive. It might possibly survive if they are indifferent, but the chances are much better if you have their blessing.  Notice, I said blessing, not commitment. See below!
  3. Do not expect to get leadership commitment to your ministry until you have proven that it will be successful! LST actually made this mistake in our Centurion project which launched about three years ago. We asked churches to commit to a goal of sending 100 workers with LST over a five-year period—with no financial commitment whatsoever.  Although a few churches committed, we were absolutely shocked at how resistant most churches were to making any kind of a commitment at all.  We have since modified our approach, so that we only ask for permission to test run LST in their congregation to see if their members have a good experience with it.  Church leaders are much more open to us with this approach.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Join with established ministries who have proven track records and who can help jumpstart your ministry. So you think your teens should do mission trips to learn to share their faith! Rather than asking your youth minister or some parents to plan and organize such a trip, why not ask a ministry like LST YoungFriends to help you, since we have been planning short-term missions, including special ones for teen groups, for thirty years! If you want to start something for the poor, why not contact existing ministries and partner with them–or after-school programs, or abused women, or English As A Second Language outreach??
  5. Be spiritually prepared to be ignored. If I were a church leader and if I knew what kind of transformation happens to every person who spends two weeks on an LST project, I would do everything in my power to make it possible for every person in the church I was leading to participate—there, I said it as boldly and honestly as I can.  However, the fact is that a very small percentage of Christians really want to engage their faith as actively as most ministries require. If you, as the promoter of your ministry, let the massive indifference discourage you, then you are defeated! You must be willing to do your work without recognition, without popularity, and without any other reward than the smile of the Father!  If you need more than this, you will give up!
  6. God has His own schedule for growth! I love flowers—Sherrylee calls them annuals and perennials and I have a vague idea what that means. But I really love flowering trees. I love the blooms on our fruit trees, I love the beautiful white flowers of the Bradford pear trees, and I really love the Oklahoma redbuds!! The time from seed to bloom is very different for these plants. In reality, only God knows the proper time and season for your ministry to bloom. You can choose to acknowledge God’s sovereignty here—or you can try to set your own schedule. Occasionally, we may be able to hothouse something into rapid growth—but these efforts are rarely long-lived. I recommend you let God be in control.
  7. If you are called by God to a ministry, you will never be truly happy until you are answering the call—so get on with it!  I love the story of Jeremiah, called by God to be a prophet to the nations, who yells at God and says, “You deceived me! I did what you called me to do and I’m having a terrible time! In fact, I’ve tried to quit several times . . . but I couldn’t because your word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones–and I can’t keep it in.” (Jer. 20:7-9)

Reposted from September 2010.

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Strategic-PlanningStrategic planning for a faith-based organization raises different questions and  . . . well, I just don’t think it looks the same as strategic planning might look for a for-profit enterprise of the same ilk.

About 18 months ago, the board members of Let’s Start Talking brought up the idea of developing a strategic plan. Just now, we have begun the process, and even getting to this point was not without some pain. For the next nine months, I will be working on this, so I thought it might be helpful to some of you to share the process with you.

Let’s start with some of the questions:

Why go to the trouble and expense of doing a strategic plan? 

As you probably know, my wife and I founded Let’s Start Talking in our living room 33 years ago. LST was first organized as a ministry of a local congregation, answering directly to the elders of that church.

In this start-up phase, the ministry had no employees, no regular donors, and no plan for the next year except to meet the needs that were placed in front of us, which for LST meant, recruiting students and training them to go with us on short-term mission trips at the invitation of a handful of European churches with which Sherrylee and I had a relationship because of our previous mission work in Germany.

By the end LST’s first decade (1980-89), we were taking about 50 students, who raised all their own money plus enough to cover the small cost of organizing the projects, training the workers, and overseeing them in the summer. Financially, we were a zero-sum organization, starting each year at zero and finishing each year at zero.

The only plan was to recruit enough workers to do the work that God had placed in front of us.

LST mushroomed in the 90s, going from 50 workers to over 300. The breakup of the Soviet Union generated a huge desire among Christians to share the Gospel in these many countries where Communism had attempted to suppress and eradicate faith. But no one spoke these many languages, so LST’s strategy which involved working in English but was also direct evangelism became one of the most successful ways to work. LST, which one couple could manage in the 80s, now needed to become much larger.

The strategic plan was the same as it had been, i.e., to recruit more workers to meet the greater need!  As we recruited more workers, we generated more income, so we hired one office assistant and one recruiter. As the numbers grew, we added first volunteer office help, then hired office help, so that by the end of the 90s, we had 12-15 employees. The ministry was growing to meet the need.

But the dimension and scope of LST’s work was creating some issues. The 150-member congregation that had provided our legal status and oversight for almost 20 years decided that we were too big now and that the liability was bigger than the church wanted to take on. God had a big change in front of us!

And what was my plan for the ministry?? To continue to recruit more workers to meet the growing number of invitations from mission sites—now all over the world. But to do that among Churches of Christ, we needed a sponsoring church.

In 1999, a Fort Worth mega-church assumed our oversight, organized us into a Texas non-profit, and generously supported the ministry. But, of course, in this new arrangement, LST was required to have a board of directors.

Now after another decade, LST has continued to expand into China and the Muslim world, the budget has doubled in size, and the ministry is now an independent non-profit. LST now sends out more church members than college students and the funds all workers raise only cover about 70% of the annual budget, so outside fund raising is a necessity. All of these changes have been pretty dramatic!

What was our strategic plan that got us through these changes?  To continue to recruit more workers to meet the vast need of the world to hear the story of Jesus!

As you have probably deduced, the first obstacle to formulating a strategic plan has been this strong sense I have had of having always had a very simple plan that has always worked! I have always stated it as “following God and trying to do the tasks he puts in front of us to do!”

About six months ago, the LST board insisted that I get serious about strategic planning.  So, I’ve worked pretty hard to get my head around the idea. Here are the thoughts that have helped me:

  • Planning is a way of letting other people know what I believe God wants to do with LST.
  • Planning is an opportunity for people to look objectively at the ministry and make helpful suggestions.
  • Planning can suggest new ways of measuring outcomes that might be helpful.
  • Planning is good for donors who want to see measurable steps toward measurable goals.
  • Planning helps board members perform their duties better because they have a better definition of ministry activities and goals.
  • Planning should help us anticipate potential changes and prepare better for them.
  • Planning may force me as Executive Director to define both the vision and the means more precisely than I am inclined to do otherwise.

What would you add to this list?

Next I want to talk about the search for a consultant/coach to help us work through the strategic planning process.

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Fifth in Guest Series by Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vantage Church (San Diego, CA)

It’s one of the most frustrating things in the world to have a deep passion for something and not be able to get leadership to care much or embrace it. Few places have I seen this frustration more common or misunderstood than when it comes to global evangelism. When you meet resistance proposing something to church leaders, it isn’t typically because they hate ministry or people or they want to be frustrating. The resistance you face is often based on stuff under the surface. Everything below is a generalization. However, if you are meeting resistance, some of these attitudes may be in play. Let the generalizations begin 🙂

In general, elders tend to fear conflict, ministers tend to fear failure. Church members tend to feel like the church is overstaffed and spends too much money on themselves. The minister feels like the church is under-staffed and under-resourced. None of this makes for easy persuasion or full buy-in from leadership.

If it were me, I would focus on getting the preacher on board first. Preachers tend to me more open to new initiatives and they know how to get the elders on board. Like it or not, they are also usually the functional leader of the church by virtue of having high visibility and an open mic for 30 minutes every Sunday. Some will disagree with this…but without the preacher’s support a ministry will have about half the octane it could have otherwise. The good news is that most preachers don’t know they have the power they have…and tend to care more about ministry than power-brokering anyways. However, when you propose something new, or want to go to the “next level” in global missions (or anything else), here are:

5 Things Your Preacher Won’t Tell You He’s Thinking (Some are reasonable, some aren’t)

  • “I think you might pitch the idea, and leave me with the workload.” Create a ministry that requires little more than vision-casting and cheerleading from him. Preachers enjoy these and do them well.
  • “I think you might blame me and the elders if it doesn’t work.” If it doesn’t work, don’t blame them.
  • “I think this will mean less money and human resources to carry out the work of the local church.” Most churches actually drastically underfund local ministry. I would recommend finding ways to get the job done without pulling additional funds out of local ministry. I would also find ways for the missions ministry to add value to the whole life of the Body…not silo itself.
  • “I need you to help me understand how this works, because people will judge the ministry’s success by the numbers.” This is sad but true. A ministry that doesn’t “work” will hurt credibility for all involved. Have a clear way to measure “success,” even if not by numbers–though numbers matter. Just make it clear.
  • “I’m always looking for new ministries that will work and bless the church, but ending ministries is nearly impossible. Offer to try it as a pilot or experiment, and have a concrete end game in mind.

If you can find a way to put these concerns (many of which are shared by elders) at ease…odds are…you’ll not only get leadership on board–you’ll have real champions for your area of ministry.



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Fourth in a Guest series by Tim Spivey, senior minister at New Vantage Church (San Diego, CA)

No-silosBuilding on the three previous posts, here are a couple of introductory steps you can take that will help your church more effectively embrace God’s call to global mission:

Seek alignment. Understand the church is like a mobile. Everything is connected, and this is a great blessing. Look at your existing ministries and see how your missions ministry can be properly aligned with what the church is already doing. In some churches, church planting, short-term missions, benevolence, long-term missions, etc. are all very separate ministries with independent objectives and marked territory. For the purposes of involvement perhaps this feels good. However, if ministries are organizationally, strategically and philosophically siloed, it will take twice the money and publicity to achieve half of the results with half of the joy.

“Alignment” means riding the wave of where the church is already going rather than charting your own course. It means building missions ministry around the broader objectives of the church, and with all church ministries in mind. This will not only bring the blessing and support of church leadership to missions more quickly, it will relieve “sideways energy” in the church system that creates a tug of war effect–lots of effort, little movement. If everyone heads in their own directions, the church will stuggle to make progress of any kind. With alignment, forward progress is much easier and results exponentially enhanced.

Here are some steps to this effect:

  • Seek a firm grasp on the mission and vision of the church. Ask, how can we build a missions ministry that affirms and accentuates that vision? If missions becomes a para-church ministry in the church, it will never soar, and those involved in it will find themselves wondering why leadership and the congregation don’t seem to care much about it.
  • Have those who lead ministries in the “externally-focused” areas meet together. Relationships are everything in the church. Knowing one another better and communicating what’s going on will help coordination and make it easier for people to give to one another when necessary down the road. Tomorrow’s post will talk more about the importance of relationships in global missions ministry.
  • Integrate those ministries by choosing to do things together. Could a short-term missions team be sent to build up and encourage your long-term missionaries instead of going to countries that aren’t a part of what the church is already involved in? Could some of the church’s benevolence money go to support the poor overseas? Here’s another one–can the global missions team play a part in helping further the cause of the poor and and reaching the international community around the building through a ministry like Friendspeak?
  • Trade out traditional “mission reports” for storytelling opportunities in sermons, giving time, communion, and other things that weave the narrative of what God is doing globally through all of church life. Consider having one of your missionaries video a communion thought or a brief thank-you for the morning and stream it to the screen. Now they aren’t a visitor from a faraway land. They are part of the church.

Those are just a few possibilities. There are many more. There are two more posts in this series. One with more practical ideas–and one talking about getting leadership on board.

How have you seen partnership between ministries rather than “siloing” pay dividends in furthering God’s mission in the church?


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Third in a series of guests posts from Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vintage Church (San Diego, CA).

Today’s post offers some relatively blunt observations regarding the relative strength of a church and it’s ability to be a good “missions church.” I offer these with redemptive intent–wanting churches to become all God wants them to be.

  • My experience is that struggling churches struggle for good reasons. It usually has something to do with leadership issues, and those issues by nature permeate all aspects of the church. It’s important for the sake of missionaries these issues are dealt with. Typically (though not always), churches will do mission work with the same level of health and excellence they do local ministry. Bad local ministry, bad missions ministry. If they don’t show care for what is happening locally, they typically won’t care about what God’s doing half a world away. This is another reason to pay attention to local ministry…it buoys the eventual effectiveness of whatever happens overseas.
  • A lack of well-formed theology and ecclesiology manifests itself in silo thinking. In this mindset, church-planting, benevolence, global missions, local ministry, campus ministry, etc…are all completely different ministries needing their own advocates at the church leadership table. In this way of thinking, each ministry is separate and altogether disconnected. The silo mentality is one of the great enemies of global missions ministry and healthy ministry. The church is a Body, and each part is connected. Both practically and theologically, when all parts are working together for the common good of the Body according to their place, the church grows in unity, vibrancy, and effectiveness. We cannot just report on missions. Biblical teaching on the church, ministry and the nature of evangelism is an important part of becoming a good missions church.
  • Integrated ministry recognizes the symbiotic relationship between all ministries of the church. It leverages the strengths of all for the sake of all. This why effective global mission requires more ingenuity, a strong focus on integration with the ministries of the whole church and less initial funding than one might think.
  • Most churches still view “successful” mission works as those they have supported for many years…regardless of their effectiveness or the real impact of continual support for decades. This way of looking at missions bottlenecks resources at a national level and tends to build co-dependent relationships between congregations and mission points. Relationally, it’s wonderful to continue to support a particular work. However, the relationship can continue regardless of support…as a parent doesn’t cut off relationship with a child once they leave the house. It’s important that mission efforts become self-supporting after some reasonable period of time–for their good and that of the supporting congregation.
  • Here is a difficult one. Struggling churches usually have declining budgets as well. They often will only cut missions as a last resort and will thus kill the proverbial “goose” by first slashing local ministries, cutting salaries, etc. in draconian fashion–which often means more decline, which means less revenue, which means more cuts, etc. This is a noble impulse, but HUGE mistake. Sometimes this must happen–but not usually. More on that in another post. For now, I would recommend cutting what isn’t working wherever it’s located and moving the resources to where the most good for the Kingdom can be accomplished. That’s a delicate process of discernment…but a necessary one.
  • If the “goose” continues to be plucked or starved, at some point, the ministers of the church come to view missions as a competitor rather than an ally in what God’s doing in the church. This is never good…and isn’t necessarily all the minister’s fault. The minister may fear blame for the church’s decline when he or she didn’t have much to do with it–they simply had the ball taken out of their hands. The ministers need to be strong allies in building a vibrant global missions ministry. In fact, I would start building buy-in with them first.

Which brings me to the next posts in this series: Concrete steps to improve both your church and the church’s global mission efforts.

I would enjoy hearing to what extent to you believe world missions is separate or different from other ministries of the church? Why?


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Some life-threatening diseases have obvious symptoms that send us immediately to the doctor. Other illnesses are what media sometimes refer to as “silent killers.” Hypertension, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, as well as colon cancer and heart disease are examples of diseases that present only mildly, if at all, in their early stages.

The best chance for treating and surviving any of these silent killers is early diagnosis, usually as the result of regular physical checkups! I suspect that the health of a congregation also depends on early diagnosis as the result of regular spiritual checkups.

Let’s look at some of the diseases from which congregations/churches may die, differentiating between those that are symptomatic and those that are silent.

Church Diseases With Obvious Symptoms

Heresy: I’m not talking about disagreements over worship styles. I have listened in classes where the exclusive claim of Jesus as Savior has been denied. I have heard apocryphal literature read as Scripture. I have sat in churches where the only resurrection offered was the memory of deceased loved ones that lives in our hearts.

True heresy denies the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and/or the sovereignty of God. (It’s dangerous to even start such a list because one almost immediately feels the need to include more and define each item, i.e., create a creedal statement. A blog is a poor instrument, however,  for writing creeds.)

I myself find a wonderful list of non-negotiables in Ephesians 4:  one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one Body, one Spirit, and one God and Father of us all. Christians do argue over the full understanding of each of these, but that in no way for me detracts from their unity and essentiality.

Immorality: If you have been a Christian very long, you know of churches destroyed quickly by immorality, often committed by church leaders—but not exclusively!  When church leaders do not address perversion and corruption among their flock, they endanger the entire church because “they know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too” (Romans 1:32).

Immorality is not exclusively sexual. The entire list from Revelation 21 could be included:  8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. I know that’s strong language, but we are talking about people who destroy the body of Christ!

Apathy: Many churches meet out of habit or tradition. Their leaders continue to lead worship, celebrate communion, and present a homily because that’s what church leaders are paid to do. A few members attend because . . . they themselves are not yet dead! The Messenger to one church said:  “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Revelation 3:15-16)

If your church just really doesn’t even care if it is alive or dead, that is the definition of apathy. If your church refuses to even ask the question or take the pulse of the church, that is apathy.  If your church has no ears to hear those who warn them, that is apathy!

An Inevitable Outcome?

The angel’s warning to the seven churches of Asia is not only a great wake-up call for modern churches, but also a sign of true hope. If there were neither hope nor means of recovery, then why the warning? Just blow the candle out and put out the light!

No, our God is One who heals the sick and raises the dead! If you are afraid your church is deathly ill, turn to God and ask Him to intervene! “Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. (Luke 15:4-5)

Next time, I will offer you my list of the church diseases that are silent killers!


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