I once led a workshop called, “When You Have More Slots than Workers.” The room had standing room only. Before beginning my presentation, I asked each person to answer the question: “Why do you think churches often have more slots than workers?”
One said, “People aren’t committed.” Another said, “The church is full of pew-sitters.” All fifty-some people gave some version of the same answer: “We don’t have enough workers.”
When everyone had had their say, I announced: “I think you’re all wrong! Nine times out of ten, the problem isn’t too few workers; it’s too many slots. If you came to learn how to recruit more workers, you may want to leave now and come back to this afternoon’s workshop on recruiting. This workshop is on how to solve the problem of too many slots.” No one left.
I witnessed a great example of this at Stillmeadow Nazarene Church in York, Pennsylvania. The church had three church-wide weekly programs for children–Sunday school, children’s church, and a huge Wednesday night program. It took 187 people to fully staff these programs that served 150 children. When I asked the children’s director, “Do you have 187 people who are called to work with children?” she just rolled her eyes.
To solve this problem, their children’s team decided to do two children’s ministry programs with excellence rather than continuing with three struggling programs. They combined children’s church with their Wednesday program, using the best features of each, and held it Wednesday night. On Sunday rather than having Sunday school and two sessions of children’s church, they went to two sessions of Sunday school simultaneous with worship using a large group, team teaching approach. After restructuring, they had not 187 slots to fill, but 60. By June every position for the fall program was filled–a first–and all by people who were passionate about ministering to children!
Most churches are trying to do so much that they constantly scramble for workers and can’t do ministry with consistent excellence. The result: workers burn out, those receiving ministry are shortchanged, and people are not free to serve where God has called them.
As leaders, we are often eager to start new ministries, but lousy at letting old ones die. We seem to feel that if we end a program, we have failed. Our programs become sacred cows.
Just as God prunes our lives to increase fruitfulness, God does the same thing with ministry. The birth of new ministry is a sign of life. But an equally important sign of health is, “What ministry program have we ended this year?”
To accomplish more, do less.
- Is it time to celebrate the end of a program that is no longer as fruitful as it once was?
- How can you restructure or combine ministries to accomplish more with less?
(This post adapted from THE MORE-WITH-LESS CHURCH by Eddy Hall, Ray Bowman, and J. Skipp Machmer [Baker 2014], pp. 19-23.)