No, I’m not talking about pulling your support from zombie runs (though hopefully you have better things to do with your church’s resources). I’m talking about those ministries that probably got started years and years ago but have failed to bear sufficient fruit (but that keep on going and going and going anyway).

  • The children’s moment that’s still in the bulletin even though there hasn’t been a kid in church in four years.
  • The Saturday evening worship service that has an average worship attendance of six people.
  • The Vacation Bible School that hasn’t brought a single new family through the doors of the church in a decade.
  • The Pennies from Heaven program that raised 47¢ last month.
  • The all-church small group ministry that has an average attendance of three: the pastor, the pastor’s spouse, and Widow Baumgartner.

Many churches are so “busy” with zombie ministries that their leaders are in danger of becoming zombies themselves: they’re tired, burned out, and moving toward cynical. There are tons of reasons why churches continue to support zombie ministries, even though it’s killing them. But here are five of the most common:

  • The church has decreased in size over the years, but never stopped any of the ministries it did when it was large.
  • The church’s leadership has a hard time saying “No” to people who want to get their personal pet ministries started.
  • The church’s leadership doesn’t have the chutzpah to pull the plug on a fruitless ministry because it’s somebody’s pet project and they won’t risk conflict.
  • The church’s leadership believes it has to be engaged in all these ministries in order to be a faithful church.
  • The church’s leadership has set no benchmarks for what is or isn’t success, and thus has no criteria for bringing a ministry to a close.

Make no mistake: zombie ministries plague most churches, and they suck down church resources faster than (WARNING: Metaphor Switch) a vampire under a full moon. But not only do zombie ministries suck resources from a church, by their very existence they keep other vital and life-giving ministries from starting. 

It’s never easy killing off an existing ministry, but it’s absolutely necessary to prune off branches that aren’t bearing adequate fruit (the story of Jesus and the fig tree in Matthew 21 comes to mind).  Here are five ways to help you put an end to some of your zombie ministries:

  1. Measure everything you’re doing against your congregation’s mission and vision. Any ministry that isn’t fully supporting them must come to an end.
  2. Set measurable benchmarks for success and then measure each ministry against those benchmarks. Stop the ones that don’t measure up.
  3. Practice Sakichi Toyoda’s “Five Whys.” For every ministry, ask “Why are we doing this?” and then question each answer with “Why?” until you have a clear understanding about why the church is engaging the ministry. Often you’ll discover the reason a zombie ministry still exists is because “We’ve always done it.” And doing something just because you’ve always done it isn’t a success-based benchmark. 
  4. Be sure every outreach ministry does three things: blesses those who serve, blesses those being served, and creates visibility for the church. It’s the last one that should be the criterion for killing many outreach ministries (See Matthew 5:16 for Jesus’ visibility mandate). If a ministry doesn’t create visibility for the church, it must come to an end.
  5. Finally, don’t start any new ministries without pre-determining the expected results. Set a go/no go date so the ministry team is fully aware that if the results fall short by that date, there will be no surprises when the plug gets pulled and the ministry is ended.

It can be painful putting an end to a beloved tradition, but any zombie ministry that’s allowed to continue will continue to be a distraction and a drain on the church’s resources. Better to risk the ire of one of the saints than to feed a zombie and kill your church’s future.

Question: What zombie ministries has your church put an end to – and how did you do it? Share with us in the Comments section below.

You Might Also Like: