3 Suggestions When a Ministry Project is Unsuccessful


Pastor Vincent Howell, an expert on project management in ministry, says even when a project doesn’t fully meet expectations, it’s important to keep a positive outlook and learn from the experience so that team members are encouraged to try new things without fear of failure.

Not all projects, no matter how well-intentioned, will achieve the planned objectives. So, it’s important to explore what to do if a project is not successful.

First and foremost, don’t panic. Churches should not fear failure as we approach ministry projects, because Christ calls us to make disciples, and that requires us to be innovative and to learn from our experiences. Jesus makes this clear in his parable of the talents. In that story, two of the servants had a positive approach as they sought to increase the treasure for which they had been given responsibility. But the first servant was afraid of failure, so he acted conservatively, burying his talent instead of being innovative, and thus he had no increase (Matthew 25:14-30). None of us should approach doing the Lord’s work with a fear of failure, for we serve a Savior who does not give up on us even when we feel we have failed.

Encourage the project team to view its results as learning about what it can do better next time in the way that seeds are planted to grow for the future.

Consider these three suggestions when a ministry project does not achieve all its planned results:

  1. Encourage the team to keep a positive outlook. Not achieving the initial objective does not mean ministry failure.
  2. Conduct a lessons-learned session to understand what the team should have done differently.
  3. Celebrate what was done well.

 1. Keep a positive outlook.

The church project manager is responsible to help the team deal with any frustration they might have. She or he must start by maintaining a personal positive outlook and then remind the team that they started the project with good intentions and that there is still value in a project that might be viewed as unsuccessful.

No project team should come away with a feeling of failure. The results of any project effort provide learning benefits for future project and ministry endeavors. We are reminded in Scripture:

  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, GNT)
  • “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, ESV)

So, encourage the project team to view its results as learning about what it can do better next time in the way that seeds are planted to grow for the future. Remember the Pauline exhortation that one person may plant, another may water, and a third may reap the harvest? (see 1 Corinthians 3:7-9) That Scripture has relevance for project teams because in time we will have a harvest if we don’t give up.

2. Conduct a lessons-learned session.

The church can learn from a project experience even if the objective is not fully achieved. This is of benefit to the project team itself and can be helpful for avoiding past pitfalls in a future project. Conducting the lessons learned in this context becomes a problem-solving session, allowing the team to look for root causes of what went wrong. The benefit of understanding “why” can also serve as a positive motivator when the group identifies through its analysis what could have been done differently to get a positive result. Therefore, a lessons-learned activity for a less-than-successful project provides an opportunity for positive reflection for future improvement.

 3. Celebrate what was done well.

Since lessons can be learned from a less-than-successful project, instead of brushing the results of the project under the rug, encourage the team to create a celebration and recognition event that celebrates its positive results and its lessons learned. By celebrating projects that did not quite meet full expectations but were successful in producing new learning, the organization fosters a positive culture of ministry innovation and thereby encourages team members to try new things without fear of failure.

Reprinted from Managing Projects in Ministry by Vincent W. Howell, copyright © 2017 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press, 800-4-JUDSON, judsonpress.com. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Vincent W. Howell is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Clemmons, NC, and Director at the Congregational Faith and Learning Center at Hood Theological Seminary. He is author of "Managing Projects in Ministry," Judson Press, 2017. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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