One of the most significant challenges in the church is siloed ministries. Perhaps you have experienced this struggle. The kid’s ministry has its programs and curriculum. The youth ministry, while operating during the same hours, has a different approach and curriculum. Repeat this disconnection across collegiate ministry, singles ministry, young adults, young families, adult ministries, senior adults, etc., etc. The only real unifying factor hinges upon the same location and perhaps the same Sunday worship experience. Regardless of the cause of these ministry silos, the result is dysfunction. Perhaps some ministries are excelling while others languish. Numbers typically fluctuate across ministry areas in these churches as families struggle to connect and go all-in because “all-in” means something different for every ministry category.
For example, I served at a church that did not have Sunday evening services to allow for Bible study groups in the community. Often, different ministries would host training and events on Sunday evenings as it would only impact “their” ministry area. This theory is absolutely incorrect. The result of this mindset meant that students would need to be present one week, the next week the mother, who had a passion for missions attended that training, and then the father, who wanted to start a new accountability group needed to attend the following week’s training. What happened to their bible study group each week? Either they canceled, or someone missed. What about their younger children? Where would they go while the training and events took place? What happens when opportunities exist only for their older student and not their younger? I can hear people responding now: they need to prioritize their time to do what the Lord is calling them to do! They make it happen for sports events and school! I get that. I also agree with it to some extent, but the reality is that when different ministries drive at different speeds without regard to the overall mission of the church, families pay the price. Ultimately, that church will pay the price as fewer and fewer people engage in ministry. Staff and leaders then wring their hands and wonder why this careless generation thinks so little of the church. But what if the problem is not that people are less committed? What if the problem is that churches aren’t structured for the greatest impact? What if churches are so focused on individual ministry “success” that the vision erodes and the mission is forgotten? While we would never pursue this outcome, it happens all too often.
What to do? We must start by aligning our church culture. Before taking action on events and programs, curriculum and approaches, we must build an aligned culture in the church. You’ve heard it said before; culture eats strategy for breakfast. But how does one create culture? It starts by aligning your staff and key leaders. Many times leaders are placed in a position or raised into a position because they have the necessary qualifications: they are breathing, and they said yes to the job. While these are undoubtedly important, they do not speak to the greater purpose of that position and how it connects to the church as a whole. Sometimes we hire or recruit volunteers out of abundance, most of the time we do so out of necessity. And this is where things get difficult. Do we juggle the extra work while waiting for the best fit or do we hand off the task to first available person? I think we all know the answer to this question; we allow the tyranny of the urgent to drive our decision making. While this serves us in the short term, it creates the dysfunction of siloed ministries in the long run. While this topic requires more than a thousand words in a blog, there are some steps you can begin to take if you want to move toward effectiveness. Here are a couple of ways to start aligning your church culture as you move closer to unifying the vision and mission of your church:
Disciple Your Staff/Leadership
Until your leadership is on the same page as a unit, forget about the mission and vision ever being meaningful for your church. There are always going to be people who believe they can accomplish the mission their way and by themselves, if need be. Before you examine your staff or volunteer leadership make sure and check your own heart. How much are you trying to do alone? How much have you invested in your staff/leaders? By leading those who make the key decisions to grow closer to the Lord you accomplish two critical things (and probably much more). First, you open a pathway of transparency that allows them to see you and connect with you in ways they could not otherwise experience. This transparency is crucial for building an effectively aligned culture. Second, you emulate for them the how and why. By discipling your staff, you are showing them exactly what your expectations are, and you are giving them a template to use as they transfer this to their ministry area. There is no better way to lay the groundwork for staff alignment.
Implement a Discipleship Pathway
Working with your staff and leadership map out what you want the product of your church to be. In other words, what do you want to see as a result of your church equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry? Once you have developed that goal, spend time working through what it will take to get there. Be clear and make it simple. The goal is to present this to your church as your discipleship pathway. Your pathway is something everyone in your church, including your staff and leaders, can agree upon as the result of all that you are doing. Once this pathway is complete (you can check out Replicate’s here), you will have something that every ministry can focus on together to unify around. You can start asking questions like: does this program or event help people move along the pathway? Does this help families move together as they grow and get equipped? The great thing about a discipleship pathway is that you will have a metric against which you can gauge the effectiveness of your processes and strategies. (More on the pathway in the next blog in this series).
When it comes to getting every age on the same page in your church, it begins with aligning your church culture. Once the culture is aligned, the practical elements of the ministry will be easier to tweak, change, or even remove if need be so that the church as a whole can be healthy. Healthy churches lead to both spiritual and numeric growth. Pray about your current culture and determine if there are any steps you need to take to create alignment and more effectively equip the saints.