4 Ways Churches Waste Their Time

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Church Growth: My guess is that you’d rather not try 1600 ministry activities before you find the one that works.  

Have you ever worked hard on a project, only to realize later it was a waste?  You’re not alone, and of course, as long as you have a heart to learn from your mistakes, you might be able to chalk up your failures as Thomas-Edison-style “that’s another way not to do it” lessons.  Edison famously “failed” to invent a working light bulb many times over, testing more than 1600 possible filaments before stumbling onto the right one!

My guess is, however, that you’d rather not try 1600 ministry activities before you find the one that works.

Here are four ways churches waste their time:

  1. Measuring activities rather than results.

It may be fun and self-affirming to consider how many sermons have been preached, how many events have been hosted, how many dollars have been given or how many bulletins have been printed. But wouldn’t you rather know how many lives were changed, how many people made a commitment to Christ, or how many members took a next-step of spiritual growth?  Measuring activity can lead you (and your team) to do more and more “work” without any real test of effectiveness.  Measuring results forces us to do that which yields good fruit for God’s kingdom.

2. Operating on hunches instead of data.

You have a great idea! But does it fit with the mission of the organization?  Is it right for the people in your city? Are people really interested in volunteering for it? Would it make as big of an impact as you might hope? Letting data hold your ideas accountable is a great way to avoid massive time and money-wasters. How many people in the church really feel a burden to jump into this new ministry idea? How much money will it actually take? What specific results will this idea yield, and why is it better than what we are currently doing? Are there any better ways to achieve the same objective, using different means?

I’m not suggesting that you study your church to death, but that you let even your best “hunch” be exposed to some honest vetting.  Don’t trust your own perceptions. Churches and organizations have wasted vast amounts of time, personnel and money on hunch-driven assumptions, all of which could have been saved by a bit of humility, patience, and study.

3. Not listening to your team.

Your team loves you, and even more, they love what your church or organization is doing.  That’s why they serve!  This means that when one of them comes to you with a red flag, or an alternative theory, you should push pause. (Granted, some team members are always contrarian, and I’m not suggesting rearranging every time they push back against you.)

But when core, inner circle friends and staff start suggesting other ways to get the same thing done, take note – they may be telegraphing their disapproval, in the nicest way possible.

In an ultimate sense, if you have the “power of the purse” in the organization, your team (particularly those who are paid) will have to fall in line behind you, even if they don’t like or agree with your direction.  Sometimes, this is appropriate, and a necessary choice to lead over the objections of others.  But most of the time, if your team isn’t fully-convinced, you shouldn’t be either.

4. Letting your strategic plan stay in the filing cabinet.

One of the most frequent objections I hear to the strategic planning process goes like this: “We tried that a few years ago!”  All the work, study, consultation and prayer that goes into formulating a strategic plan for a church, and then, the filing cabinet? Or even worse, a lost PDF in your email archives?

This is the responsibility of the lead pastor or ministry leader, to keep the vision in front of the team. If you don’t have the plan on your desk, no one else will.  If you aren’t asking for metrics and measurements regarding organizational objectives, people will reset to old and easy patterns.  If you aren’t celebrating victories or flagging action items that have fallen behind, your team won’t be encouraged to keep moving.  You’ll overhear one of them at the coffee station telling a friend, “Yeah, we did some strategic planning meetings a few months ago.  Nothing really came of it.”

About the Author–Dan Jarvis is a certified strategists with Leadership Outreach and a free-lance writer. He is the editor of Revive! Magazine, a publication of Life Action Ministries. Dan is the author of Commissioned, a book detailing the explosive growth of the local church in India. Dan can be reached at Dan@leadershipoutreach.com.

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