Tony Morgan is currently writing a series of posts focusing on the idea that for most churches, whether conservative, contemporary, or modern, their services are predictable and stale (stale is my word, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see it in his posts).
I’d encourage you to head over there right now for a great article sharing “9 Reasons Your Church Services Are Stuck in a Rutt“.
I wanted to add one final item to his list:
Church services are growing stale because we have devalued “minor league ministry”.
If it’s not Sunday morning, then it’s considered secondary. That means children’s ministry, youth ministry, women’s ministry, small groups, worship night, prayer breakfast, and the rest. Church leaders know they are important, but they are never given the same amount of thought, effort, or resources that “the big leagues” get.
In some ways, that makes logical sense: Sunday morning is probably when you have the most people, so putting resources there gives you the most bang for the proverbial (and literal) buck. But this tendency can also cause all sorts of problems, including a redundant, stale, predictable worship service every week.
How can smaller ministries in a church help refresh and improve the worship service? There are a few ways.
Smaller ministries can be more nimble and creative
If you have a smaller team, a simpler process, a quicker turn-around from idea to execution, you can often be more successful than someone with with far more resources. It’s true in every area of life from business, to sports, to ministry (check out the story of the Wright Brothers for a great example of this). Think of how many home-run ideas have been left on the table because not everyone could agree (the team was too big) or it was hard to see how to flesh them it out (complicated process). Smaller groups usually avoid those types of issues and that’s a huge strength that the rest of the church can benefit from.
But the smaller team is also more limited by resources, so they often can’t try many of the good ideas they have. Imagine what would happen if your church invested heavily in some of these more agile ministries for a season. They would be able to be even more creative and effective. And as they came up with programs, approaches, and systems that proved to be effective, those could then be adopted and adapted by other ministries. Everyone wins.
What to do…
- Come up with a rotation where each “secondary” ministry receives the full support of the church (money, volunteers, staff, etc.) for a set period of time or for a special event and then borrow the good ideas that come out of it.
- Look around at the more agile teams and ministries in your church and see if anything can be applied to Sunday mornings.
- Invite certain leaders from other ministry teams at your church into the service planning process for a month and ask them to help you be creative.
Low-risk situations make it easier to try to new ideas
Once you decide to move forward on a new idea, smaller ministries are the perfect proving ground. No matter how good the idea might seem or how confident the leader might be, sometimes things just don’t work. It’s much easier to have a new idea fall flat during the women’s Bible study with 40 people than on Sunday morning with 400 people. Knowing this, you can be more liberal in trying new things because the risk is smaller but the potential pay-off is still very high. The smaller ministries will also benefit from the influx of new ideas.
What to do…
- When someone has a new idea, try it somewhere besides Sunday morning and see how it goes. (Make sure to give it the full backing it needs to succeed)
- If it falls flat, move on. If it works, hone it even more and move it into other areas.
Low-risk situations are helpful to grow new and diverse talent.
One of the biggest reasons things are the same is because the same people are coming up with the ideas. If the service planning team changed every week, I’m sure churches would see plenty of new ideas. But getting new people means training new people. It means giving them a chance to actually DO ministry. Yet most churches aren’t intentional about using various opportunities to develop those who are up-and-coming.
Many church leaders see these secondary ministries as a chore (children and youth ministry especially) rather than the opportunity that they can be in this context. By reevaluating the place of these “minor league” ministries, we can provide cutting edge ideas and quality talent for ministries that desperately need it. At the same time, those ideas and people that are successful can grow in influence and benefit the entire church (including Sunday morning).
What to do…
- Use smaller ministries as low-pressure opportunities to give people real ministry experience. (e.g. teaching in youth group, leading a prayer breakfast, or planning the details of a smaller event)
Considering different audiences can help us break out of mental barriers
When we think a thought, neurons send out signals in our brains which travel across connections to other neurons. The connections that these signals travel is called a synapse and they can be built up and strengthened with use. That means the more we think a thought or pattern of thoughts, the stronger those connections become and the easier it is to think that same thought again. That’s usually a good thing as it allows us to learn and build habits. But it also means that, simply because of brain physiology, it’s physically harder for us to think different thoughts over time.
One of the best ways to break out of this mental trap is to change the context of your thoughts. Focusing the same creative process on a new ministry is exactly the kind of change in context that can lead to the creative breakthroughs every one of us is looking for (church leader and church attender alike).
What to do…
- “Swap” ministry leaders and service planners between different programs for a few weeks to allow cross-pollination of ideas, creativity, and vision.
- Have your service planning teams attend strategy meetings for other programs and help out coming up with new ideas to get their creativity flowing again.