July 5, 2017

What Makes for a Successful Ministry — Part One

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Oftentimes, we tell stories of what success looks like and doesn’t look like, but most of those stories go unexamined.

On today’s Whiteboard Wednesday, we have Eliza Cortez Bast from the Local Missional Engagement of the RCA and Andy Bossardet, who serves as Coordinator for Equipping Thriving Congregations of the RCA. Today is part one of two on the question, “What makes for a successful ministry?”

It’s important to begin with what a successful ministry looks like. In part two, we’ll go deeper into discerning and deciding what the vision of success is and how to step into that vision of success.

As a leader, you have the notion that your congregation and you as a leader are somewhere. You have a current reality about your own life as leader, which includes your personal spiritual journey, your family etc.

At the same time, your congregation has a narrative about its own current reality. Where have you been as a church? Where are you today? Who is worshipping with who? Who isn’t? What ministries do you have and don’t have? And you need to tell that story.

You also need to tell and listen for the story that is being told in your community. What is going on in your neighborhood? What is going on in your school systems? What is going on in your government? What is going on in businesses around you? As you begin to tell that story, a sense of what God is already doing in your community emerges, along with a growing sense of what your church may be called to do next.

All of this helps to define what your church’s missional call is.

After you listen to your community, congregation, and your own story, you will be positioned to pray and discern with the power of the Holy Spirit as to why God has your church in that community. Specifically, what God is calling your congregation to do in partnership with his ongoing work in the community.

One of the most common things organizations do is measure their outputs instead of their outcomes. Here is some common language, so you can start crafting the vision of what God is calling you to do in your community.

Outputs are simply your organization’s activities. Outcomes, however, are the story of the actual impact your organization is having. Think about the metaphor of a bridge. You may want to tell people that you want them to experience what is happening on the other side – that you want them to experience the fullness of life that lies on the other side of the chasm. These types of outcomes and that missional call will help you drive what kind of inputs need to happen.

Your church may strategically design a bridge and say that it’s being called to drive the outcomes they hope they would like to have. For example, they may start raising the resources to build the bridge. Types of inputs for resources could be time or volunteers. As the bridge begins to get built, you will understand your strategy on how you would like to accomplish the outcomes you feel the missional call is pulling you towards.

Often where organizations start to get stuck is that they celebrate the outputs. They are celebrating the fact that they’ve built a bridge together. There were conversations about the bridge, or marketing events around the bridge. But when you go back to your missional call, it will tell you that the things that you should be celebrating and measuring are not the activity itself, but the outcome of people experiencing life on the other side of the bridge. So, as you begin to interpret what that means for your organization’s resources, it changes the conversation on how you structure programming, and how you gauge progress toward achieving the missional outcome and calling of the church.

This is definitely not a call to do more. What it means is for you to strategically look at your ministries and say, “If we want to have this outcome, and if we want people to get to the other side, then what do we have to stop doing now? What do we have to alter? What do we have to change to make sure that our ministry is having the maximized impact it could have?”
It is important for a leader to have conversations around how ministry needs to change. If you have a vision statement that doesn’t fundamentally alter how your church does its work, then it’s not really a compelling vision.

To consider how your ministry might need to change, let’s imagine the image of a stop light. As everyone knows, red means stop, yellow signals you to go faster to beat the red light, and green means go.

For the red light, we can consider whether or not some ministries need to stop. However, this is not an opportunity to grind your ax against a particular ministry that you don’t like or doesn’t fit your preferences. Rather, it’s about focusing on which ministries need to end now so that we can be empowered, and more resources (people, time and energy) applied to get across the ‘bridge’ and get to the place we need to go.

The yellow light represents ministries that need to be changed in some manner. Here, you need to hit the pause button on that ministry and ask if there a way it could change, even just slightly to help accomplish the mission or the vision we are getting after.

Finally there is the green light. What are the ministries that need to be accelerated or started? In other words, what ministries merit more resources given to them? Or what new ministries need to get started in order to get across the chasm and toward the life that God is calling you to live?

It is important to start these conversations and learn how to consider where God is leading you, and how that will help to change your ministry.

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