How to start something new in your ministry

Starting something newAt the start of every year churches seem ready to start something new.  The New Year brings a new season in your ministry rather than more of the same old routine.  Perhaps there is a ministry that was needed last year that you didn’t have the energy for or perhaps there wasn’t space in your program to start something new.  With the New Year comes new energy and we all think we can take on more projects.  So if you find yourself thinking this way this post will help you through the process.

With over 10 years experience in ministry consultancy, most people underestimate the time and effort it takes to start a new ministry.  Many ministry leaders hope to get something started with a few weeks preparation when really it takes months to prepare for a new start.  Recently I was reading a 2012 strategic plan for a church which included plans for a start up ministry in 2014.  In ministry we have to cautious of being inspired to start a new ministry on our holiday and hoping it is fully running the second week we get back.

As many of us begin our ministries after the long summer holiday break, here are a few tips to starting something new in your church this year:

  1. Narrow the focus – once you start planning to begin something new everyone wants to be included more than you had planned so you have to keep a narrow focus.  So a new junior high ministry shouldn’t include senior students as participants.  The new music team should also double as a bible study.  Don’t try to bite off too much when you first start a new element within your ministry; you can always broaden the focus later but it is harder to cut back as you launch.
  2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare – there is such a tendency to launch something and work out the details later.  If you don’t prepare fully then you won’t be ready when you launch which will turn visitors off.  When we were starting a junior ministry in one of the churches we took six months to prepare even though we had 20 young people ready to go.  We needed time to prepare the first six months of talks, themes and research appropriate activities.
  3. Ride through the dip – six months into every start up the ministry hits a dip in numbers or energy, perhaps due to a lack of money, leaders or participants get bored.  What will be the dip in your ministry?  Seth Godin in his book “The Dip” believes that most start ups fail because they don’t know how to ride through the dip; those that ride through the dip are the ones that succeed.  Perhaps your dip will come in six weeks perhaps it will come in two years but you must ride through the dip in energy and numbers to be successful.
  4. Marketing is important – In his book on Church Marketing, Richard Riesling says that marketing is managing perception.  With any new element in your ministry you have to manage the perception that others have of what the ministry is about.  In the start up of our junior youth group we called it Blaze to evoke the image of a faith that is on fire for God; and we didn’t mention or offer pizza even once.  Mange the perception of your new venture so that people know this is long term and not a flash in the pan idea.
  5. Who will lead it when you are gone – perhaps you don’t need to answer this question before you begin unless you are planning on leaving within six months.  But from the very beginning you need to start training and preparing your replacement.  In fact sometimes other leaders won’t put their hand up until you are a success so start anyway.
  6. Have fun – starting a new ministry is a lot of work but it is so much fun.  Everyone gets excited and there is so much enthusiasm towards something new.  Enjoy this time and have fun serving your ministry.

It is important for us to be looking ahead to see how we can start something new this year that will meet the needs of people next year and into the future.  We can’t wait until our current programs fizzle out before we look to the horizon to see what is next.  Perhaps this year is a year of transition for you and your ministry, I hope and prayer that God leads you where you need to be.

Please leave a comment about how you have started a new ministry.

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald, markoffaith.net

Is your ministry getting ready for Christmas?

Is it really time to be thinking about Christmas, it is only September?  Before you panic, this post is about working on your environment now so that you are welcoming community by Christmas.  We know that many people come back to church for Christmas so you need to start working on creating a welcoming environment so that you can keep them into the new year.

It is a well known that attendance numbers drop off during the winter months, especially at Sunday night services.  People think it is too cold or too dark to got out, it might be raining or they want to somewhere warmer than a cold church building.  So it is likely that your ministry has dropped a few people over the winter months but now is the time to start welcoming them back.  Just as the trees and plants spring to new life around this time, perhaps the ground work you do during September and October will prepare you for a growth period over December, January and February.

Here are a few common sayings in ministry and how you might need to address these at the moment:

  • People always come back to Church at Christmas: each parish has a group of Christmas and Easter Christians that you will see coming back to church this Christmas.  Whilst you might not like it but if you don’t ask then they won’t come; if you are not welcoming then they won’t stay.  Recently I heard that the biggest growth group in Australia is the unchurched who don’t love or hate the church; they just have never been asked.  We often listen to the vocal minority who are vocal about their opposition to the Church but the majority of Australians don’t hate the church; some of them will return this Christmas.
  • Vision leaks:  has your ministry grown tired and lost the energy that it had in the beginning of the year?  Whilst you might know where you are heading you need to tell the people in your ministry as the vision leaks.  Some leaders say that when you get sick of reminding people of where you are heading then people are just starting to get it.  For more on this topic check out the article, Where are you heading?
  • Good habits drop easily but take months to re-establish: perhaps you were a welcoming church at the start of the year but with no new people coming over the winter your team lost the habits associated with a welcoming church.  So in the coming months you need to re-establish these habits so that it comes naturally when the Christmas season rolls around.  For more on this check out this article, Creating a Welcoming Church.
  • Narrow the Focus: whilst you might want to stir up energy by adding new programs to excite people you probably need to narrow the focus rather than widen it.  Sometimes people get confused with where they should put their focus, as the leader you need to target one or two things for people to focus on.  Don’t bring in 50 strategies for creating a welcoming church, perhaps just work on a good greeting before the service/event and unexpected hospitality after the service or event.
  • Good branding just makes bad products fail faster: if you spend a lot of time and effort on marketing your service and events without improving them then they will only fail faster.  Some leaders wait until people turn up to start improving things, which only shows new people how bad things really are.  Improve your Sunday services and midweek events first then invite people to experience the revamp.
  • A good spring clean makes for a good summer: perhaps this is more a gardening image than a ministry one but I think it applies well here.  Some teams plan to leave all their cleaning up for the “downtime” in January but that is when you need to be taking a break and a holiday.  January is not just about your members taking a holiday, you need one as well.  Perhaps a good spring clean in September and October will bring much needed focus and energy ready for the Christmas season when people feel like coming back to church.

So whilst you might think it is too early to think about Christmas, just remember that you need to give November over to thinking about the New Year, which I will post on shortly.  If you need to start your planning for next year in October and November then it is better to start preparations for Christmas now.  Remember we are not just talking about the Christmas Service but the welcoming atmosphere that you hope comes naturally around that time.  A little bit of extra work now will reap better results for your ministry come Christmas.

Please leave a comment about how you are getting ready for the Christmas rush.

Where are you heading personally? Vision Part 2

In a previous post I wrote about where are you heading in your ministry.  Whilst it is important to steward your ministry well, most of us won’t stay in the same ministry our entire life.  So how do you work out a vision and direction for your life that fits into what God is doing within the ministries that you are planted?

When I was younger I thought my youth group was the best thing I had ever done.  Every Sunday night I would go to Church, during the week we would catch up, I would write talks, help out with meetings and do whatever was needed.  After three years of giving everything I had to this ministry I started to see life after the youth group.  It was like I grew out of the youth ministry as I grew older and I needed to move on.  Since then I have seen the same pattern repeat itself within every ministry I have served in; it is just the length of time that changes.  Sometimes it is six months sometimes three years sometimes 10 years.

In your life have you seen this pattern in ministry:

  1. Discover a new ministry
  2. Soak up everything you can from the group
  3. Devote everything you have to the ministry
  4. Pass on everything you do to other leaders
  5. Move onto the next phase of your life

It is Ok to spend a season in a ministry and move on.

The challenge for us is to be guided by what God is calling us to rather than drifting from ministry to ministry.  If you are going to stay in ministry long enough to contribute, you have to go through a period where it may not be as enjoyable as when you first started.  If you leave a ministry when ever it is no longer enjoyable then you are not moving by God’s call but by your own desires.

Here are four things to help you determine where you should be heading personally:

  1. What is your calling?  Your calling doesn’t usually look like a job description.  It isn’t often that your life’s call is Year 12 Geography teacher at Summer Bay High.  Your calling is some way that you will make a different in the world so describe it in unique ways.  Your calling is most likely not just the things that you are good at but the things that make you stronger as a person and as a disciple.  Your calling will never draw you away from God but will help you build God’s Kingdom in a special way.
  2. What season are you in?  You may be in a season of growth; you may need a season of rest.  You need to reflect on what season you are in because God may be asking you to sow into a particular ministry for a particular time.  If you feel you must commit somewhere for the rest of your life then you may miss the opportunity to sow into a great ministry for a short period of time.
  3. What are you preparing for?  Are you developing your craft for a future season?  We can be so focused on what we are doing now that we forget we need to be preparing for what is next.  This might be further study, it might be connecting with mentors who are at the next level, it might be reading more books or developing your platform.  Even if you are in a season of great productivity you should be preparing for the future.
  4. What is your life’s work?  Sometimes you need to imagine how you will view your life after you retire.  Whilst most of us have no idea about every single job that we will hold in our life, it is important to focus on what significance your life will make as a whole.  Some people will have three or four ministries throughout their life others will serve in 10-15 different places.  What difference will your life make as a whole in the Kingdom of God?

Whilst this might sound focused on you, I really believe that we have to let God be God.  We have to constantly be asking God how can I serve you?  It is not our vision but God’s vision that we should be following.  If you are heading nowhere in your life then you will get there.  If you want to be heading in the right direction then you have to be looking to God.

markoffaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith

Where are you heading? Vision Part 1

Andy Stanley wrote that the end of a God ordained vision is God.  So if you are heading towards a vision then you want to make sure that it is God ordained.  You want to make sure that you are doing what God created you to do with your life, in order that you can come closer to God.  The reverse would be true as well; the end of your vision is you, because it is you that set the direction and it is you that chose what was important.

In ministry we can often get lost in a minefield of vision, which is ironic because vision should be crystal clear.  The reason that we get lost is because we don’t know whose vision to follow:

  • Senior Minister – any Senior Minister has their own reason for being in ministry and they have the greatest say over what is seen as important in your church.
  • Elder’s board or church Council – are the church leadership team really discerning God’s ordained vision for your church or is it vision by consensus?  Sometimes church boards are made up of people who are just “helping out” and have no clue what God wants for their church, other times a church board is filled with the most gifted people.
  • Finance Committee – a good finance committee works out how to achieve the vision that God has ordained, yet in some churches the Finance committee determines what vision the church can afford.  If God ordains the vision then God will provide, don’t settle only for what you can afford.
  • The Ministry – we often are look for the new vision for our ministry as though it is separate from the vision that God has for our Church.  Don’t let your ministry be heading in a different direction from the rest of your Church.

So how do you know which vision to follow?  We know from scripture that people without a vision will perish so which one do we pick?  It is important to reflect on these key things:

  1. Branding is not vision – sometimes we rush into a vision statement because we need to brand our ministry.  A good vision can take at least six months to discern, most likely it will take around 12 months.  A vision is going to set you heading in a particular direction for the next ten years where as your branding will only last 2-3 years at best.  If you like a particular style of marketing or branding then run with it but don’t confuse branding for vision.
  2. You are not your ministry – it is important for you to separate your own personal vision from that of your ministry.  God wants you to do something with your life that may be different to what God wants from the ministry you serve in.  In reality the ministry should keep going long after you have left the position but God still wants you to build the Kingdom even though you move onto the next position.  Don’t confuse what you want to do with your life with where God is calling the ministry to go.
  3. Ministry has its season – perhaps you don’t know where your ministry is going for the next ten years but you can discern where you are heading for the next season.  In youth ministry it is sometimes difficult to have a vision beyond five years.  In University ministry students move on every 3 years so a vision must accommodate each season being quite short.  If you are called to lead for a season then pursue the vision as best you can and leave God to work out the next season.
  4. Ideas come with a strong vision – when you have a strong vision of where you are heading over the next 10 years then usually you are full of ideas.  People who run out of ideas are either run out of vision or are heading in the wrong direction.  One church used the phrase  “no rowing ministry” to describe when the wind has changed direction but we row the boat where we want to go.  If your vision is God ordained then the ideas will come.

A practical example

There was a Church that started a youth ministry by asking the young people what they wanted.  The answers that the young people gave were passionate and exciting but they were all ideas of things they could do rather than a vision of where they were heading.  The leaders called me after six months to say they had run out of ideas.  When I asked them about their vision they clearly didn’t have one; they only had a list of ideas for fun youth nights.

After focusing them on discerning a vision and asking them to think about where they were heading they came up with a list of what they wanted young people in their ministry to be like.  In the end they clarified a vision around helping young people to know Christ.  Over a year later they were still going strong and they were developing more leaders and they were full of ideas.  Where there was no leadership towards a vision the group almost collapsed but when the leaders had a strong vision of where they were heading then the group thrived.

So where are you heading?

markoffaith, MarkofFaith, Mark of Faith, mark of faith

Young People are the future of the Church

For over 20 years, Youth Minister have been arguing that the youth are not the future of the Church, they are the Church of today. Frankly, it hasn’t worked, young people are still leaving the Church, youth ministry budgets are still low and staff levels have either declined or stayed the same. The “Church of today” mantra hasn’t worked. What if we return to the motto of “young people are the future of the Church” would it work any better?

Here are a few questions we might ask our Parish Council, Vestry or Elders board if young people are the future of the Church:

  1. Senior Minister:  if you had to recruit your next Senior Pastor, Minister or Parish Priest from within your own people, are you developing future leaders?  Do you have enough good Christian young people entering theological education so that your next Senior Pastor is a great God honouring leader?  Who is your Senior Minister personally mentoring to take over their job in the future?
  2. Youth Pastor: if you had to recruit your next Youth Pastor from within your own people are you developing young people who have had a positive experience of youth ministry?  Do you mentor young adults so that they feel supported enough to take on a leadership role in future years as the Youth Ministry Coordinator?  If young people drop out of Church between the ages of 10-14, perhaps the 14 year old who just gave up on your church was your future Youth Pastor walking out your back door.
  3. Parish Council: if you had to recruit your next Elders board, Vestry or Parish Council member from within your own people would it be possible?  Are there young adults coming through your church who honour God with their lives and in the future could stand for leadership in your parish?  If you are not forming young people in your church today then the future of your Parish or Church leadership team is not looking good.  Perhaps the young people sitting in your church today who are bored and making paper aeroplanes out of the bulletin are thinking the last thing they want to do with their life is serve the Church.
  4. Financial Partners: nobody likes to mention the fact that the Church has always needed, and will always need, people who earn income in the world and donate it to the Church.  Are you investing in young people teaching them to go into the business world and be the best they can?  Because one day those young people will earn a pay cheque and make a decision on how much they give to the Church.  If they skip youth ministry and stop coming to Church, pretty soon your church will have fewer and fewer financial partners.  Perhaps the 14 year old who walked out your back door never to return was going to become the key financial partner in the future of your parish.

If we truly believe that the young people are the future of our Church wouldn’t we do things differently?  If your church had to recruit all its future leaders and financial partners from within your church wouldn’t you take the young people more seriously?  It is my opinion that many churches don’t think the young people are the future or the present of the Church, they are someone elses problem. Many churches are doing nothing hoping that someone else is forming great leaders they can steal/employ years down the track.

Absolutely we should see young people as the Church of today, but if we are serious about them being the future of our Church then let us invest far more into youth ministry than we currently are too.  Please a comment or share your thoughts below.

markoffaith mark of faith Mark of Faith

Are Australians ahead of America in ministry?

I have just walked out of the Peter Corney Lecture at Ridley College in Melbourne where Ken Moser addressed the gathering with a few observations about the Youth Ministry landscape.  If you don’t know who Ken Moser is, he is an American who came to Australia, worked here in a number of settings and now works in Canada.  He has written many good books from his time in Australia which have that Australian attitude of doing stuff that works.

Whilst I can’t quote Ken word for word I want to share a thought with you all from his talk but here are few points to keep in mind:

  1. Traditionally Australians have looked to American for the Youth ministry model, bought the books and hired them as guest speakers as “the expert”.
  2. The key American practitioners are all writing that the youth ministry model is no longer working as the society becomes increasingly post Christian.
  3. Australia was never as Christian as America
  4. Australia moved into a post Christian society 10-20 years ago depending on the view point you take.

So here is the big idea:

Why are we looking to America who is 20 years behind us for what is coming next?

Whilst I can’t remember the exact wording, Ken is suggesting that in fact Australia should and can lead American youth ministry to what comes next.

After the lecture I had the privileged of taking to Peter Corney himself, who started ministry in 1960 and has influenced youth ministry in Melbourne.  His perspective was that ministry has always changed and evolved similar to the down turn in the great Sunday School movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

So whilst I usually like to blog with you about a solution, tonight I thought I would share with you these thoughts and admit that I am as keen as ever to work with other Aussies to think though what’s next.  So please leave a comment to add to the conversation about what comes next.

The Concorde vs the 747 … and your next ministry project

You may not know this about me but I have a soft spot for aviation.  Recently, a story came to my attention that I thought had implications for those of us in ministry.  It is a story about the battle between the Concorde and the Boeing 747.  After Boeing had failed to match the makers of the Concorde with a similar aircraft, Boeing went a different route to build the 747 Jumbo.  Here is a match of the features:

The Concorde

  • The downside – it was a very expensive aircraft to develop costing over a billion dollars to build.  The maintenance and running costs were much higher than other aircraft meaning that it became the passenger airline for the rich and famous.  It was also one of the noisiest and most polluting aircraft in history.
  • The upside – this aircraft was the first passenger aircraft to fly at twice the speed of sound, going from London to New York in 1/3 of the time of other aircraft.  Because this aircraft was so expensive the engineers had to constantly innovate to keep the costs down.  There were many new accomplishments in the design of the Concorde.  Many technical developments, such as fly by wire, are almost standard on all other passenger aircraft.
  • The Lessons for Leaders – the Concorde was such a huge project that once it was started the companies had to see it through.  Often as leaders we skip such a bold project because it will cost too much, take too long or have too many opponents.  Yet the Concorde project shows us that industry leading innovation comes out of the bold projects not the safe projects.

The Boeing 747 Jumbo

  • The upside – the Jumbo was about a quarter of the cost to build, maintain and fly as the Concorde yet it could carry four times the number of passengers.  It made international passenger flight possible for many more people than the elite that flew on the Concorde.  The Jumbo became the aircraft that every airliner in the world had to have.  It was a business smart aircraft that kept costs down.
  • The downside – the Jumbo was the “play it safe” option for the aviation industry.  I don’t want to downplay how important the Jumbo was at the time but it didn’t fly faster or raise the standard.  The Jumbo was the next step in the process of development of large passenger aircraft but it was leaps ahead.
  • The Lesson for Leaders – the Jumbo won the battle because it made more sense for the average person.  Sometimes as leaders we can have our heads in the clouds and not realise what the people we are leading actual want.  It is not a bad thing to go with the project that learns from the boldness of others.  We need to have projects that take our ministry to the next level without breaking the budget.

So what projects do you have on the horizon?

  1. Bold Projects – Do you have a really bold project that will push your boundaries and force you to innovate?  Is this a season where you can try something so bold that you ministry will never be the same?  Perhaps you need a project so bold that it forces you to pray like you have never prayed before.
  2. Next step projects – is it a season for playing it safe and learning from the boldness of others?  It is not a bad thing to take your ministry to the next level through a project that will get wide spread support.  Perhaps you need a project that everyone can get behind rather than pushing the boundaries.

Whilst the 747 Jumbo won the battle, the Concorde is in a league of very special aircraft.  With all its faults and expense the Concorde change the passenger airline industry.  However the 747 Jumbo won the battle because it made the best business sense.

Please leave a comment.

How do I get my Senior Pastor to understand my vision?

It seems that many youth pastors or youth ministry coordinators wish that the senior leaders in their church would have a better understanding of the needs and vision of the youth in their church.  In fact a common complaint in youth ministry is a “lack of support” from the church council or board of elders.  As I read many youth ministry books it is a topic that has been around for decades.  So what is my response to the question:

“How do I get my Senior Pastor/Vicar or Parish Priest to understand my vision for the Youth Ministry?”

Before I get into my answer I want to share the answer of three “mega-church” youth pastors who have now become Senior Pastors.  A few years ago I was attending the youth ministry forum at a conference where this question was put to three famous “mega-church” Youth Pastors:

  • Judah Smith had just taken over from his father at City Church in Seattle after running a youth ministry that was reported to have over 2000 members.
  • Phil Dooley had just started the Capetown Campus of the Hillsong church after running a youth ministry that was reported to have 5000 youth across three campuses in Sydney.
  • Carl Lentz had just started the New York campus of the Hillsong church after running a very successful youth and young adult ministry in Florida.

When this question was put to the three of them sitting on stage in front of 250 youth ministry workers, most of us were hoping for a little support.  In fact they gave the opposite view, that there should be no separate youth ministry vision.  Judah Smith stated that it was the job of the youth ministry leaders to implement the overall vision of the church in the youth ministry.  Judah said that he told his father, who was the senior pastor, don’t try to make the vision sound “youthy” that is our job.  These three leaders all suggested that the youth ministry should try to understand the senior leaders vision for their church.

Now you might think that these three leaders are in a league of their own so their statements don’t apply to you.  But how many youth would be “big enough” to have a separate vision for the youth ministry?  One could argue that having a youth ministry of over 2000 people could be big enough to have a unique vision but it may lead the youth ministry to drift away from the rest of the church.  If however you want your youth ministry to be part of the church then why not adopt the vision of the church you wish to be a part of.  If 2000 people was not “big enough” for these three leaders to have a separate vision then why is 20-50 youth be “enough” to have a separate vision?

In my opinion the youth ministry and the young adult ministry should serve the rest of the church by sharing and supporting the vision and mission of their church.  So here are a few tips to help you deal with this question in your situation:

  1. Talk to your Senior Pastor/Vicar/Parish Priest – help him understand the ideas that you have for the youth ministry and work with him to fit them into the vision and mission of your church.
  2. Get involved with the Church Board/Council/Elders – don’t wait until the vision is set in stone to have your say in the formation of the strategic direction.  Attend meetings and put youth issues on the agenda, don’t wait to be asked for your opinion.
  3. Raise your concerns or thoughts behind close doors and support the vision publicly – once you have had your say then support the team.  Remember it is not your ministry but the ministry of your church so support the senior leaders in public.
  4. Help young people understand the vision – use the vision and mission statement of your church in your ministry.  Perhaps you need a few youth relevant images or stories but don’t change the meaning of the mission and vision.

To put things into perspective for most of us (i.e those who are not “mega-church” youth pastors) check out this great blog post 10 easy steps to make your pastor love student ministry by Benjamin Kerns at Average Youth Ministry.

And for those who might say “isn’t the Bible our vision and mission statement?”, yes it is but you only have to check out the thousands of mission and vision statements on church websites to see why this is an issue.

How have you worked with the leadership in your church to align the vision and mission of the youth ministry with the rest of your church?  Please leave a comment