You come up with a great ministry or event idea. You know it’s working at a church you respect and you’re sure it will work in your church. You pray about it and talk to several others, and everyone senses a green light.

So you launch it, but then it never gets traction.

It never catches on.

You’re left to choose between two bad options – letting it coast even though it’s not effective or changing course and losing some of your leadership capital. Maybe you’ve tried to start something and it didn’t work. Or maybe you want to avoid the mistakes so many others have made. In areas like…

  • Launching small groups
  • Starting a men’s or women’s ministry
  • Organizing an outreach event
  • Raising money during a capital campaign

Whether it’s a new program, ministry, idea, initiative, or campaign, here are several reasons it (whatever it is) might not work in your church.

#1 – Your ministry menu is already too crowded.

One of the most common reasons programs, ministries, or initiatives don’t work in churches is because there just wasn’t room in the first place. Your ministries, events, and programs already have a lot of competition. There are things in the culture but also things in your church vying for people’s attention. So giving them more options isn’t going to create momentum. It’s going to water down what you’re already doing.

Deborah Ike says a packed solid church calendar and back-to-back meetings are a sign your church is too busy. If your church is already too busy (and keep in mind, you might not be the best judge of that), don’t add more to the mix. It just won’t work.

I’ve seen this a lot when churches with classes try to add groups to the mix. They don’t want to stop doing classes because that’s worked in the past. So they add groups as an option for people who prefer the community-focused ministry. The result is usually two mediocre things that don’t work.

It’s tempting to think your church can sustain another idea. But just because you have the capacity and the drive doesn’t mean your church shares that. Highly committed leaders often fail to realize people in their church do not have the same capacity. Even your volunteers and leaders will be confused by adding more messages.

Since pastors believe in the vision for something and are passionate about it, they think it will translate to their church. It doesn’t.

Thom Rainer writes:

“Members are often confused about what they should do and how active they should be in the disparate ministries and programs. And some members pull back their involvement altogether in a sense of frustration and often guilt.”

Whenever you add something, it costs.

It costs money. It costs people. It costs communication.

If you think you have too many ministries, here’s a step-by-step plan for how to cancel or stop doing some of them.

If you’re committed to starting a new ministry, this article has some practical advice on how to do it.

#2 – The leadership team doesn’t personally buy in.

Another reason programs, ministries, and initiatives don’t work is because the leadership team doesn’t personally buy into the idea. I’m not talking about believing in the idea, I’m talking about buying in. Here are two examples.

If you want small groups to work in your church, all of the leaders from the Senior Pastor to the staff to those in volunteer leadership roles better be in healthy small groups. If that’s not the case, groups are likely going to struggle.

If you want your church to set up recurring giving (which is a great idea, and you should strive to have 75% of your giving come this way), then your leaders should go first.

No matter the campaign, make sure the leaders go first. Have conversations. Ask questions. Talk to people personally.

And do all of this before you launch the thing to the church.

#3 – You’re not willing to invest financially.

A third reason things don’t work in church is because there’s not a solid financial ground. Jesus told the story about a man who began building a tower, but had to quit because he ran out of money. That wannabe builder ended up being the laughing stock of the story.

In the same way, you shouldn’t launch programs, ministries or events without the proper financial support. You shouldn’t hire a position without firm financial footing in the hopes this new hire will “pay for the position.” That’s just poor planning.

Too many programs and ministries fail because there wasn’t a budget. And the thing is, that’s entirely preventable.

In Originals, Adam Grant says one of the biggest reasons new businesses fail is premature scaling. They try to do too much too soon. They don’t give their systems time to catch up to their passion. That’s a challenge for pastors and church leaders, too. Our ministries need more than passion and vision. They need systems. And they need money.

If you go to the Drive Conference or follow the ministry of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta, you might know they put a huge emphasis on small groups. “Circles are better than rows,” is something you’ll hear all the time from them. That means for as well-done as their church services are, their real focus is connecting people in groups.

This goes way beyond announcements. It’s part of the culture.

Small groups are so important to Northpoint they will reimburse parents for babysitting so they can participate in a small group. That’s how they have chosen to solve the childcare problem of groups. Parents can pay for a babysitter of their choice and the church will cover the cost.

This is a considerable expense and a big line item in the church budget.

But it enables adults with young children to participate in one of they key programs of the church. And it shows, not just speaks about, their values as an organization. My point here is not to tell you to start a childcare reimbursement program. It is to challenge you to think about your priorities and then align your budget with them.

There are too many churches that say reaching students is a priority and then they ask their student ministry to organize fundraisers. If your money isn’t where your ministry mouth is, it’s probably not going to work.

#4 – You’re depending on one passionate leader instead of developing a leadership team. 

A fourth common reason things don’t work in church is leadership development.

Ministries get started by one passionate leader, but when that passion changes or that visionary leader moves on, the ministry is left with little structure and no staying power.

Visionary leaders, the kind of men and women that start things in churches, are often not good at running things. They start but they can’t sustain. They create the architectural drawings, but they don’t know how to handle a hammer.

But for your ministry, program or campaign to work, you need leaders who know how to cast vision and operators who know how to organize things for the long term. At Church Fuel, we say it like this:

If you only have WOW leaders, you’ll move from idea to idea and never make any long-term difference. Everyone will be inspired and that inspiration will fade away quick. If you only have HOW leaders, you’ll be a well-organized, super-systematized, cost-effective church that accomplishes nothing important.

Whether it’s an event, program, or launch, you need both kinds of people. If you’re a Church Fuel One member, make sure you watch the master class on how to structure every volunteer team for success. We’ll show you exactly what kind of WOW and what kind of HOW leaders to put in place. If you’re not a Church Fuel One member, this one master class will make it worth a year-long membership.

#5 – You didn’t create a plan worthy of the idea.

The fifth reason things often don’t work in church has nothing to do with an idea. There are ton of great ideas that don’t work.

A lot of different ideas will work. In fact, you could even choose the opposite idea you’re considering right now and it will work. I think about Apple (a closed system where Apple controls absolutely everything in the ecosystem) and Android (an open source system where developers can change things at will). These two ideas are exactly the opposite of each other. And both work just fine.

That’s because it’s not about the idea; it’s about the execution. It’s not about the program; it’s about the plan.

If you have a great idea, it deserves a great plan. In fact, I’d go as far to say that one of the biggest reasons things don’t work in our church the way we want is because of our failure to work.

I like to say, “that didn’t work” but more often than not, I didn’t work. The idea wasn’t to blame; my haphazard creation of a supporting plan, calendar or strategy was at fault.

If you’re a WOW leader, you’re probably not going to get fired up about creating plans. You want to draw the idea on a whiteboard not plan it out in a spreadsheet. You want to cast vision, paint a picture of the problem and rely on your ability to communicate to drive the idea.

But passion isn’t a plan. Martin Luther King, Jr. may have said, “I have a dream,” but there was an entire apparatus behind him and alongside him implementing a plan to usher in the civil rights movement in the United States. MLK may have been a WOW leader, gifted at public speaking, but there were teams of HOW leaders around him creating plans and executing strategies.

If you want to launch groups, raise a significant amount of money, or start a new ministry in your church, you need more than a great idea. You need a great plan.

So What’s Next?

Feel like your church should be growing, but it’s not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.

Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?

We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. As a result we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.

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