Let me tell you a story of a ministry that fizzled out.
The young, portable church was experiencing rapid growth. People were coming back to church and learning to follow Jesus. The services were full of energy and life. Resources were tight but times were good.
The ministry model was simple: Engaging services, a safe and welcoming children’s ministry, and community groups where people could connect with each other and learn more about the Bible.
But growth soon came with the pressures to expand.
Parents of teenagers asked for a more official student ministry. Even though the pastor knew there wasn’t a leader and the church didn’t have the capacity to do it well, the voices grew louder.
So a new student ministry was formed.
We came up with a name, a logo and a Facebook page.
A few parents volunteered to serve and we launched it.
On the first night, 80+ students showed up. See, I told you it was a big need.
The next week there was a slightly smaller crowd. That’s normal.To be expected.
But within three months, it was nearly dead. The excited volunteers suddenly got busy elsewhere and with no strong leader in place, the ministry fizzled out.
I know this story well because I was the pastor.
Even though there was a lot of potential and a reasonable amount of effort, the ministry didn’t work.
This story happens time and time again in churches all over North America.
And it’s entirely preventable.
Start a New Ministry
If you’re thinking about starting a new ministry in your church, here are seven steps to help you launch well and thrive.
Step 1: Make sure the ministry meets a true need.
The biggest reason our early student ministry fizzled out was because it didn’t meet a true need.
The church service at our young and growing church was better than any student-version we could do. The existing small group structure was perfect for connecting students to caring adults.
The “need” was imagined. Or maybe manufactured.
We felt like we needed it in order to be a “real” church.
So before you start a ministry, ask yourself if it meets a true need in your community. Here are some tough questions to ask.
- Is it a real or imagined need? Sometimes, a need we want to meet isn’t truly a need.
- Is the need broad or simply being overly emphasized by a few vocal people? Sometimes, one or two passionate people push something through that really isn’t shared or supported by the rest of the church. When those people lose interest, the ministry dies.
- Is it a need you can meet? Can your church offer a significant solution to the problem? There will always be more needs than you can effectively meet.
- Is the need already being met somewhere else? If so, maybe a partnership is a better idea. There may already be another church or a local organization offering something similar and your support can be more effective than creating a competing structure.
- Is there something we need to stop in order to start this? They say when you get a new piece of clothing, you should donate something old. That might be a good principle for church ministries too. Maybe there is a less effective ministry you should stop doing as you think about starting something new.
Those questions are tough and they require honest answers. But wrestling through them before you start something could save you from a lot of headaches down the road.
Step 2: Align the new ministry with your overall church strategy.
Our friend Shawn Lovejoy says pastors and leaders need to be mean about the vision. Being mean isn’t about a personality style, it’s about focus. And when you integrate new ministries, focus is the magic word.
If you’ve identified a true, unmet need and believe your church is called and equipped to meet it, the next step is aligning the ministry with the strategy of your overall church.
You want the ministry to truly be a part of the church strategy because a ministry or program that’s tacked on will never have the desired effect. I can’t stress this enough: you need more than passion for a good idea. Your ministry needs to fit.
If you don’t align and integrate the ministry with your overall church strategy, there are some big time consequences.
- You’ll create silos and turf wars. Tony Morgan says misaligned ministries can create ministry silos. When ministries don’t work together, the result is a silo mentality.
- Ministries compete over dollars, volunteers and communication. If your new ministry is truly a part of your overall church strategy, it will receive proper funding and promotion. If not, the leader will feel like they are constantly fighting for attention. That spirit of competition isn’t a good thing.
- Individual ministries will create individual systems. One ministry with one leader will function one way, and another ministry with a different leader will function another way. That usually means poor stewardship and wasted effort.
Misaligned ministries, no matter how passionate the leader may be, just won’t work.
This is why we teach that every church needs a one page ministry plan. Think of it like a business plan for the church – a document that clarifies mission, vision, values and strategy. Every ministry must fit within this overall plan, and then develop their own supporting one page strategy. Finally, all of these plans must make their way to the church calendar.
Step 3: Recruit a leader who can develop a team.
Leadership is critical to the success of any ministry, but especially a new ministry. That’s why Rick Warren cautions you to never start a ministry without a minister. “Your most critical component to a new ministry isn’t the idea to start it—it’s the leadership of the ministry,” he writes.
Make sure your ministry leader has the gift of leadership, not just a passion to help people. You need more than a passionate person to lead this new endeavor. You need someone who can build a team.
Michael Gerber wrote a book called Emyth a while back and talked about why most small businesses fail. He says the reason they don’t work is because they are often started by a “technician” – someone who is passionate and skilled for a particular area.
A cupcake maker, who has a great recipe and is tired of working for a bad boss, launches out on her own. She loves cupcakes.
But before long, she realizes she is mostly ordering supplies, managing a facility and working with employees. She’s not a baker, she’s a small business manager. That’s a totally different skill set.
While The Emyth is a business book, the principles are transferable to the church. Two principles we teach and unpack in our membership program definitely apply here.
- A STARTER is not usually a SUSTAINER. The Apostle Paul started a lot of churches, but he moved on leaving qualified pastors to do the work of the ministry. A lot of ministries are started by passionate people, but don’t thrive because running a ministry is different than starting a ministry. You need both skills.
- WOW people need HOW people. WOW people are the visionary leaders. It’s the guy with the great idea and the passion to make something happen. It’s the woman willing to take a risk because she believes something needs to change. WOW people are idealistic, inspirational and excited about the possibility. But WOW people rarely get things done on their own. They need HOW people. HOW people may not come up with the idea, but they know how to execute. They are implementers and executioners. They know how to take a big dream and break it down into steps. They love progress and process.
Step 4: Build a ministry action plan.
Ministries in churches have life cycles that often look like this.
There’s a great idea followed by inflated expectations. Before long, complexity sets in and the ministry reaches a crossroads. At this point, there will either be incredible focus and alignment or the ministry will head a slow and painful death.
But you can set your new ministry up for success by creating a Ministry Action Plan (MAP, for short). This one page document ensures the coming complexity will not result in a ministry failure.
A Ministry Action Plan doesn’t just describe what the new ministry will do (that’s the easy part). It describes how the ministry will work. It’s a place to capture and communicate goals, events and structure. We start at the top by listing the church mission, vision, values and goals and then help the ministry leader connect the dots.
You can create your own simple version of this document, or grab our template when you join Church Fuel.
Step 5: Allocate a budget.
New ministries need support to thrive. And this includes a budget.
Part of your ministry planning should involve allocating appropriate funding for this new work. After all, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If you’ve gotten this far, don’t set your new work up for failure by failing to allocate funding.
Your ministry may not need a ton of funding to succeed, but you do need appropriate funding, something that’s in step with your overall budget and church goals.
Step 6: Create a communication plan.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, you’re getting the idea. Starting a new ministry isn’t something you should do lightly. It requires focus, planning and a lot of prayer and hard work.
Most churches tend to start things too fast.
But you’re different.
So when you’ve done the hard work and you’re ready to launch, I want to encourage you to build a strong communication plan. You want to let everyone know about the new ministry and give people the opportunity to get involved.
When it comes to communication, you probably can’t overdo it. Just when you think you’ve reached the saturation point, your message is just starting to sink in. When you’re sick and tired of saying the same thing and long past ready to change the subject, people are just starting to notice.
There are two critical parts to a good communication plan.
- Internal communication is for your church. You want to use all the resources at your disposal to make sure your church knows about the ministry. Tell people WHY you’re starting it. Create graphics, videos and emails to tell the story. Craft interesting announcements and emails to let people know why it matters and how to get involved. Make sure your volunteers know why they are serving and exactly what they are doing.
- External communication is for the community (or the people the ministry is aimed at helping). This is where you can utilize email marketing, direct mail, graphics, press releases and other forms of advertising. Again, it’s nearly impossible to overdo this. Don’t try to change the subject too soon. You’ve decided to launch an important ministry so it’s worth talking about.
The important thing here is to think through all of the resources you can use to get the word out and make sure people know your ministry story. Put it all in a document and get people to help. Communication, particularly around the launch time, can make or break your new ministry.
Step 7: Evaluate and Improve
Around here, we like to say “decided is not the same thing as done.”
Once you launch your new ministry, the real work begins. Now you get to DO the thing you’re actually called to do. That’s exciting. You’ve gained so much insight and wisdom to this point…keep it going!
You also have the opportunity to evaluate, improve and make necessary changes. Don’t wait until something breaks to evaluate. Go ahead and schedule your first evaluation meeting for 30 days after you launch. Be proactive about getting people together to celebrate, write down lessons you’ve learned and talk about changes that can help your new ministry go to the next level.
Our team put together an evaluation tool that can help you with this process. It’s part of a seven form set which is included to our members in the Church Fuel resource library.
This form will help you evaluate all aspects of your new ministry and create conversation points with your leaders. You can use it for your new ministry on a regular basis, but you could also use it to take an honest look at all of your existing ministries.
A new ministry can help you reach people and can help your church grow healthy. Use these seven steps to launch strong.
Next Steps to Starting a New Ministry
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