Our hometown is also known for great buffets. We’re sure you’ve enjoyed a buffet or two in your time, especially on a Sunday after church.
Can you spot the analogies in ministry?
Some of our ministries and programs are occupied by squatters. The telltale signs are a lack of big-picture ownership or true care for their church community. Cul-de-sacs in the church are similar to dead-end ministries that are no longer effective but are still hanging around. Buffets are those long stretches of ministry upon ministry options.
Not long ago, we launched the ChurchOS journey at a midwestern church. A kind, godly church elder handed us a copy of untouchable topics prior to our first two-day session with the leadership team. Among the list was a drive-through nativity that had been around for years. Thousands of cars made their way to the church every Christmas but the church had little concrete evidence the Great Commission was activated in any way.
The nativity was a buffet item with a big commitment. It was a cul-de-sac with no access to the Great Commission. Squatters lived there and refused to move.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
This matters because you are a steward of the church, and you need to make the most of what you’ve been given. Prioritization may be the paramount challenge of church leaders over time. What is most important on any given day can be difficult to discern. As a steward of Christ’s church, you want to make sure every ounce of energy, every cent of every dollar, and every second of every minute is spent as wisely as possible.
Thus, one of our primary jobs as church leaders is to navigate the dicey topic of prioritization. What can go away? What can wait? What’s next? Here are some concepts that lay the groundwork for a team to face the challenge of prioritization in the local church. If you will embrace these priorities, you will turn squatters into owners and buffet consumers into dedicated servants over time.
PRIORITY #1: THE RELATIONAL REACH ZONE REALITY
The concept is simple but profound and pivotal. The spreading of the gospel happens primarily through relationships—those within your direct sphere of influence. These relationships fit into the categories of friends, family, colleagues, and coworkers. If we want to spread the gospel and double our kingdom impact, the future frontier of that expansion lies within the relationships of the people who call your church home. Each of these followers of Christ are points of gospel light surrounding your ministry. Your gospel potential lies within the relationships within your reach zone. So how do you prioritize the relational reach zone?
PRIORITY #2: RELATIONAL EVANGELISM
Without a relational connection, no amount of advertising, branding, event-focused programming, or community involvement will get people to become followers of Jesus. That’s a fact. Any evangelism efforts must be coordinated with the existing relationships your people have with those in your reach zone. All else may well be wasted effort.
Recent data from the Barna Group suggest a smaller percentage than ever before in the church view personal evangelism as important. They report almost two out of five practicing Christians say they have no non-Christian friends or family members, and nearly half of millennial practicing Christians say it is wrong to evangelize! That means we are not engaging our world around us as we should.
The Bible is clear about what it takes to know Jesus: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). The problem we face today is clear. This cannot happen if the church is sitting on the sidelines and passively hoping for it. We’ll let Paul’s words in the next verse speak loud and clear for us: “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (v. 14).
Prioritizing evangelism within your relational reach zone will ignite your church and create ownership across the board. A focus on evangelism grows everyone.
PRIORITY #3: A CATALYTIC WEEKEND EXPERIENCE
Unfortunately, we see the weekend experience getting de-prioritized and we think this is a terrible mistake. Your weekend worship experience is the starting point for the spiritual journey for so many. It’s also the place the Holy Spirit speaks to us in a corporate setting. In fact, it’s the one time each week you have the heaviest hand in activating the Great Commission.
Think back to Acts 2. Notice the early church met regularly in the temple courts. These were areas around the temple proper. Many teachers gathered here with their disciples. The apostles decided to do the same. They understood that meeting regularly was vital to the health of their entire body (Heb. 10:25).
What did they do in the temple courts? “They devoted them- selves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42 NIV). They used the foolishness of preaching to change their world. What Jesus had predicted was coming true: “When I am lifted up . . . [I] will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 NIV).
This is the spark that ignites. It catalyzes growth. Your weekend service is a spiritual catalyst with the Holy Spirit working through every component, at every turn.
PRIORITY #4: SPIRITUAL MOVEMENT
As church leaders, we must develop a keen eye and sense for when our church is stagnating. Stagnation is the enemy of a growing local church. We are helping people far from God connect to us, him, and others in order to go on a lifelong journey of increasing commitment. That’s it. Therefore, we must become the sworn enemy of spiritual stagnation.
In 2011, Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson’s book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth came along and gave us some language for this by categorizing spiritual developmental stages as (1) searching for God, (2) exploring Christ, (3) growing in Christ, (4) close to Christ, and (5) Christ-centered.2 You likely have people at all stages in your church. The movement through these stages is marked by increasing surrender to the lordship of Christ and the adoption of his mission as ours. One of your top jobs as a church leader is to foster and facilitate this movement – believers and the uninitiated alike.
PRIORITY #5: STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION
These priorities are intended to create momentum and clean things up, especially when it comes to reaching and moving the lost. In ChurchOS, we refer to the lost as the “ONE” from Luke 15. If the ONE has come through the door because of a relational invite and now been moved poignantly through your Catalytic Weekend Experience, it’s time to communicate well about what to do next.
Most churches say too many things to their church family at once. One of the unintended consequences of overcommunication is the ministry buffet mentality. If your bulletin or program looks like a Cheesecake Factory menu, you are sending the message you have something available for every appetite in the room. You are fostering a consumeristic mentality. More importantly, you are making it difficult for the ONE to know what to do next or how to engage you.
We challenge you to think about how you can minimize your stage promotions and maximize your call to action. If you use your ONE-aware filter, it will help as well. What does the ONE need to hear this week, every week in order to move and connect to you, Jesus, and one another?
PRIORITY #6: STEP THINKING AND DESIGN
Canyon Ridge Church in Las Vegas has developed a saying that has become the mantra for their ministry: “We build next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.” Step thinking is part art, part science. We’ve been thinking about it ever since Andy Stanley wrote, “Practice 2: Think Steps Not Programs,” in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. This is especially true for the ONE, who definitely thinks and acts in steps.
You can retool your ministries and create ministry ownership with step thinking and design – first steps and next steps. Every leader must learn to ask from where, while here, and on the way to where. It’s all about next steps and progressive, deepening engagement!
PRIORITY #7: THE ONE-AWARE FILTER
If you want to elevate ownership and clean up motives in your ministry, here is one final thought. Develop a ONE-awareness that permeates and guides ever decision you make.
There is no such thing as church competition because the ONE doesn’t church shop. The ONE is in relationship with someone from your church or a friend of a friend, and that means your potential for reach is unique. The ONE needs to hope of Jesus that is shining like a beacon of light in relational reach zone. And it’s shining through the lives of the disciples in your church. A focus on the ONE can truly change everything.
In this zero-sum environment of church leadership, where stewardship is paramount, it’s pivotal to allocate and prioritize resources well. The priorities will help you do that just that and will create ownership like never before.
So, where’s the action? What is emerging? What’s a step you can take today toward putting your priorities in the right order?
— Doug Parks and Bart Rendel, authors of Intentional Churches: How Implementing an Operating System Clarifies Vision, Improves Decision-Making, and Stimulates Growth