Don't go into a new ministry; grow into a new ministry

There are few sharp turns on the road to success.

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.

The key 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 goes:

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 new group.

This is almost certain to cause a first class ruckus, people won't like it and bad things will happen. There is a better way:

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 directions.

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 doesn't.

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 Christians do.

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 not work.

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.