Eliminating the Downward Drag of Ministry Clutter


Michael Kurtz explains that churches are quick to add new programs but slow to eliminate older ones, creating ministry clutter and program overload. Regular pruning is required to regain focus. He outlines three guidelines for deciding where to cut back.

Another training workshop, another church program added. Another new idea, another ministry comes on line. Thank God for new ideas! New programs and fresh ministries can add to the vibrancy and relevance of a church. But because churches tend to add new programs without regularly pruning other ministries, the result is ministry clutter and program overload. Churches lose their focus and ending up going a mile wide and only an inch deep.

Advent overload

I recall one especially cluttered Advent-Christmas season in a church I pastored. They were promoting no less than nine special Christmas giving opportunities. All nine causes were wonderful ways of helping and blessing folk. But the sheer number was mind-blowing. People were overwhelmed and confused.

The next year we limited our church-sponsored Christmas causes to a total of three. In line with our church vision, we elected to promote a local, a national, and an international Christmas cause. We had to say “no” to some good causes supported in the past. It was not an easy tradition to break. However, the pruning proved very fruitful. We went deeper with fewer causes and we were able to positively influence more lives and do more with less.

The challenge of cluttered church syndrome

Addressing the cluttered church syndrome is challenging because churches are notorious for hanging on to programs even when they are no longer fruitful. Many churches have a plethora of programs that deserved a funeral and burial long ago! Frequently these “walking dead” programs are draining the church’s resources of time, focus, personnel, and finances.

Courage and diplomacy are required for local churches to prune their activity pastures of these sacred cows. While this pruning can bring some pain and grief over the loss of someone’s pet project, it can also lead to much more fruitful and effective outcomes.

3 guidelines for pruning ministries

I have discovered three guidelines to help prevent ministry clutter and promote healthy pruning practices. First, is the ministry aligned with the church vision? Second, are there servant leader volunteers in the congregation who are called to own and nurture this ministry? Third, does this ministry produce fruit? For each ministry evaluated, all three of these criteria must be satisfied or else the ministry should be pruned.

What might these regular pruning practices look like in the local congregation? Borrowing from the science of viticulture, we can apply to our programs some of the same reasons that rules apply to pruning grapevines:

  1. To maintain vine form. The call here is for pruning ministries regularly so that the congregation may stay aligned with, and shaped by, its God-given vision.
  2. To regulate the number of shoots on a vine. A church limits (prunes) its number of ministry programs so that the church may be more efficient for, and effective at, service and outreach. This is about going deeper with fewer ministries instead of being scattered with many.
  3. To improve the fruit quality. By staying focused on the church’s vision and doing a few things very well, much more good fruit is yielded. In addition, this focus upon, and alignment with, the church vision fosters a greater maturity (going deeper) in servant leader volunteers.

Pruning your programs effectively doesn’t just minimize the downward drag of ministry clutter, it strengthens your programs by focusing your resources and sustaining your leadership energy.

This article is adapted from the book From Pew Sitters to Servant Leaders: Developing Servant Leader Volunteers Through Mentoring (Plowpoint Press, 2018) by Michael Kurtz. Used by permission.

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About Author

Michael Kurtz is a retired pastor in the Western N.C. Conference (UMC) and a licensed marriage and family therapist. His most recent book is Mentoring Pew Sitters into Servant Leaders: Developing Servant Leader Volunteers through Mentoring (Plowpoint Press, 2018).