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:
- 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.
- Set measurable benchmarks for success and then measure each ministry against those benchmarks. Stop the ones that don’t measure up.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Our worship ministry right now doesn’t measure up to this but I’d imagine you wouldn’t recommend getting rid of worship. What about ministries that are in zombie mode because they are poorly managed but should be kept and improved? Is there a healthy way to determine what can be improved? Or are their broad categories of ministry like worship, discipleship and mission that never go away because of biblical mandate and the ministries you are referring to here are subcategories of each of these?
Good questions Luke. First, let’s be clear. Very little that the church does as an organization is biblically mandated. Weekly worship is nowhere mandated; Christian education (as we practice it) is nowhere mandated; and writing checks to send to the local food bank as a way of doing “missions” is nowhere mandated. Disciple-making and ensuring the saints take care of one another’s needs are pretty much the extent of the biblically mandated church programming. Unfortunately, by and large, the North American church has been doing a pretty poor job of that.
As to your questions, yes indeed there are healthy ways to determine the effectiveness of every ministry practice and ways to determine whether or not they should be continued or else improved. The article pretty much sums up how to measure effectiveness. So let’s talk about what to do when a worship service (or any other ministry) is not meeting its effectiveness benchmarks.
worship not mandated…..that is one I’d have to really pray about. While I see the NT allowing for far more flexibility in worship than we originally see in the OT, (the day doesn’t matter, the priesthood and sacrifice are fulfilled in Christ etc), I can’t see the basic underlying command to sabbath, go away. It’s kinda one of the original commands and is directly tied to the image we were given at creation. God sabbathed and we were created to sabbath too! Plus, “Let us not stop meeting together”……”psalms, hymns, spiritual songs”……”They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers.” Paul writing the church in Cor. about worship practices. Sounds like they were devoted to worship to me. My thought is, worship was such a standard practice, from creation, it didn’t need to be mandated. The people knew they should do it and we should too.
I recommend a reading of Frank Viola’s Pagan Christianity. While I don’t fully agree with his conclusions, his scholarship is irrefutable. The one thing I will say is that the church thrived for over 300 years without a building, which means that they did not practice anything that looks like what we would call “public worship” during that period. No sermons, no Bible readings, no formal liturgy, etc. It was truly house church “worship” for generations and only turned into congregational worship in the mid-late 300s.
And though worship may not need to be mandated, congregational worship isn’t the same as personal, private worship.
Viola’s treatise is definitely worth a look to understand just how “not” New Testament our worship and church practices are.
However, that being said, I’m not advocating the disbanding of congregational worship in general, only insisting that if it is not fruitful in terms of spurring one another on to good deeds and into making more disciples, then something needs to change. And since (unfortunately) most of today’s US churches are primarily worship clubs, then a case could be made that if the services cannot be changed enough to lead the congregation into transformative practices, it might be time to pull the plug on the worship and the church completely in order to invest the resources on congregations that would intentionally be faithful to Jesus’ mandates.
I don’t dispute the behavior of the early church, but I do see it through the lens of the Roman persecution and am not sure I still agree. That is, we don’t see them practicing something like what we would call “public worship” with sermons, bible readings or a formal liturgy etc. because they couldn’t have a more public version of worship up and until the Edict of Milan in 313 ad……right about the time you note above we started seeing “public worship.” They were mostly in hiding. The house church was kind of a political necessity. I’m not sure what it would have looked like had history been different.
That said, I do still agree we have many issues in church, including worship, that need work and I really appreciate the article. BTW: Love the phrase “Worship Clubs.” That is exactly what so many are. Will have to borrow that one!!!
Disagreeing agreeably is always a pleasure. You have good thoughts – clearly I disagree, since those who were in the midst of those days were unlikely to be postulating what public worship would look like in different circumstances. They would likely just engage in what was most expedient and possible in their culture. But that’s a straw man, so we’ll have to leave it at that! 🙂
We killed the Men’s Bible study because the members died off and no one stepped in to replace them. All of our Sunday school classes that have started in the past 10 years have gone away due to poor attendance after the initial excitement wore off.
It can be hard to let ministries die … but if we’re going to give life, we have to focus our resources where there can be life.
I am with you except number 4. Our primary drive for compassionate ministry is not for church visibility, but because we are ministering to Christ. So often the Gospel is brightest in the small, dark places of society.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the key issues that is causing the churches’ decline in the West. Plus it’s not a biblical practice. By New Testament example and by mandate, the church’s responsibility is to ensure that God gets the glory for any ministries the church engages in. And though we don’t have to advertise that First Church on Washington Street (or wherever) gets the credit, we must make sure that the credit goes specifically to God/Jesus Christ. In most cases, the most effective way to do that is do the ministry in the name of the body of Christ.