I hear too many
pronouncements in our churches: "Hear ye! Hear ye! We are going to
quit doing thus and so and begin doing this other deal!" This is
almost certain not be be received well, and even more certain to
fail. Now, failure is not a problem. The problem is, the failures
are too costly, too public and too unlikely to be repeated often enough
to eventually get to success.
Don't go into a new ministry; grow
into a new ministry
There are few sharp turns on the road to
to success in almost any endeavor in life is failure. Failure? Yes
failure. Failure, if repeated often enough and evaluated carefully, and, of
course, learned from, can reap the sweetest success imaginable. We
just have to create a culture where we can fail fast and often. We
need to try lots of things, do lots of things, fail at lots of
things, and learn from lots of failures.
One example of this is in the critical area of
the creation of new groups. Here is how the pronouncement method
On such and such a day we are going to
birth a new class. We want to ask everyone over 50 to join Joe
and Mary Snodgrass in the parlor as we send them out to start a
This is almost certain to cause a first class
ruckus, people won't like it and bad things will happen. There is a
Today, class, I want to divide you into
two research teams who will work for 30 minutes on the following
problems. Then, during the last 15 minutes we will come back
together and share our findings.
Next week: stay together as normal.
Next week: O.K. today"s material really
lends itself to discussion groups, so in just a moment I want
you to divide up into groups of 4. I have several questions for
you to go over. We will do this for fifteen minutes and then get
together and share our answers.
Next two weeks: stay together as normal.
The next week have big round table set up
so that people will naturally sit in groups of 8 around these
tables. Several times during the morning lecture, have them
discuss points around the table.
The next week have your best sub teach,
even though you are there.
The next week have all the ladies stay in
the room while your wife teaches them. The men move down the
hall and you teach them.
You keep this up for about six months,
monitoring all the while what is working and what is not. Also, you
are constantly casting a vision about groups growing and dividing,
growing and dividing, growing and dividing. Now, let me ask you a
question: what is normal now? Normal is whatever you want it to be.
From this point, you can evolve in any one of a number of
Evolve--that is a word we tend to not like in
church too well. But is it a great word and a great way to do
ministry. Don't go into ministry, grow into ministry. Experiment.
Try things. Fail. Learn. Grow. Go with what works. Discard what
How is your Sunday Night working?
I find churches in every place imaginable on
Sunday nights. For some, it is a strong, thriving ministry. For
others, it still exists, but it is really struggling. Still others
have replaced Sunday night with a glorified Discipleship Training
time where semester by semester topical courses are offered. My
church is an example of this. We call in University of Life. Other
churches have gone to home/ cell groups on Sunday nights. Still
others have abandoned Sunday night all together. They call that
Family Night. This is not what most churches do, but it is what most
Let's suppose you are in the "still have
Sunday night but it is struggling" category. The typical way to deal
with this is through pronouncements. We get a committee together to
discuss this for six months and we come forward with a proposal and
announce that thus and such is going to happen.
A better way is to experiment and dabble and
try stuff and see what works. One Sunday night do home groups. Wait
three months. Take the night off. do a one month of University of Life
set up in January. Try. Learn. Fail. Pray. Talk. A winning idea is
almost certain to percolate up out of this process. If someone asks
along the way, "Where are you leading us?" Answer honestly: "I don't
know! I am just trying to follow God. When you follow God, do you
always expect to know the destination, or just the next step?"
I didn't attend the conference, but I heard
from someone who attended a Willowcreek conference that a staff member
there admitted that, "90% of what we do here at Willowcreek fails."
Wow. How did they do that? How did they come to reaching 20,000
people if 90% of that they do fails. They try lots of stuff.
When it doesn't work.
There are times, or course, when this approach
can't work and you have to go with the pronouncement approach.
Starting a 9.45 Service with a new 11.00 Sunday School is one
example. You pretty much have to start the whole thing at once for
it to work. Or, at least you have to start with enough groups to get
you a critical mass in the auditorium and a more-or-less fully
graded Sunday School. If you have a class for 3rd graders, but not
4th graders, thinking you are going to evolve toward this, that may
Although, when we started a Saturday night
service and Bible Study hour, it was not completely fully graded. We
had young couples, preschoolers and children's Sunday School but no
youth. If parents came with youth we had to say, "Sorry, all our
youth go on Sunday morning." Gradually, over time, it grew into a
fully graded Sunday School. The children grew into youth and,
"Walla!" we had a youth group. Still, we couldn't just do one group
at a time and add to it. Some times require a certain number of
components working together for the thing to work at all.
Sometimes, we have to put the whole thing
together and launch it all at once. Usually, however, this is not
the case. Usually, we are far better off growing into ministry not
going into ministry. There are few sharp turns on the road to
success. Pray. Dabble. Pray some more. Learn. Talk. Pray some more.
Dabble some more.