Launching Sustainable Ministries

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What do you do when someone in your church presents an idea for a new program or ministry? New initiatives can be empowering and energizing. But when the initial enthusiasm wanes, leaders can end up overwhelmed, disillusioned, and feeling unsupported. New ministries are more likely to succeed when they start with a solid foundation. I find it helpful to ask anyone advocating a new ministry idea to attend to these three critical aspects of ministry development.

The larger purpose is not to put obstacles in the path of innovation. It is, rather, to equip and empower leaders for success. It’s a way of ensuring that a “permission giving” posture will be fruitful.

Team

Say that a mother in your congregation comes forward with the idea of starting a monthly Family Fun Night with movies and board games. Without dampening her enthusiasm, you can suggest that an important first step is for her to pull together a group of other parents to assess the idea and work out a plan. If she isn’t sure who else might be involved, help her think through what’s required to move the idea forward and what people might be interested in helping with different aspects.

Ministry Plan

Next, ask this new group to develop a written ministry plan. What this plan needs to address will vary, depending on the nature of the project. In the case of the Family Fun Night, the group would need to consider location, schedule, program and activities, food and refreshments, publicity, follow-up with guests, leadership, and so forth. If the idea needs the approval of a committee or governance body, this document will facilitate that process.

Funding

Rarely do congregations have funds set aside in their budgets for new initiatives. As a general rule, I’ve found asking the proponents of a new ministry to raise the start up funds builds investment and ownership in the project and tests whether the idea resonates with others. So if a new project needs money, suggest that the leaders find a way to raise the money, at least at first. (See “Saying Yes” by Gary McIntosh, Leading Ideas, April 23, 2014) If the project succeeds, it may warrant support from the church in subsequent budget cycles.

These criteria can be an objective standard for weeding out marginal ideas, pet projects, or unsuitable leaders, decreasing the likelihood that the church’s clergy or staff will end up holding the bag for an ill-conceived or poorly planned project. But the larger purpose is not to put obstacles in the path of innovation. It is, rather, to equip and empower leaders for success. It’s a way of ensuring that a “permission giving” posture will be fruitful.


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About Author

Ann A. Michel is associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and teaches in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.


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