The Problem of Too Many Ministries

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 155

Church doesn’t need to be complicated, but sometimes it ends up that way. Having a few primary ministries that are well thought out and intential can be much more successful than a large menu of options. We refer to the ministries beyond what are primary as secondary ministries. It’s in the secondary ministry space that church can get confusing, complicated, and distracting.

The following is an excerpt from Aubrey Malphurs’ book, Strategic Disciple Making.

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Secondary ministries have likely come into existence because the church may not have done a good job with a primary ministry in the past. It may have gone through several years with a poor preacher and/or poor worship, or the Sunday school program may not have taught the Scriptures well, and felt they needed more in-depth teaching. Thus, for example, the women or men decided to start a men’s or women’s Bible study.

There are at least five problems with secondary ministries.

1.   Distraction not attraction.

Many churches have added numerous secondary ministries, thinking that if they offer more pro. grams, they will attract more people. Some even pride themselves in their many programs. I refer to this as the “menu philosophy of ministry.” We have learned, however, that people more than programs attract people. A plethora of programs will attract some people, but not to the degree that many used to think it would. Instead, many programs distract people from the primary disciple-making ministries.

2.   Confusion not clarity.

These ministries cause confusion for the congregation. For example, when I go out to eat at a restaurant, I prefer fewer choices. When I open the menu and I see numerous entrees, I find it confusing and more difficult to decide because I like everything I see on the menu. They all look so good. When people look at numerous ministry opportunities, many look good, and they are confused. We must opt for clarity over confusion, and this happens when we limit or even eliminate secondary ministries, not mixing them in with the primary ones. People need to know what is expected of them in terms of the church’s ministries. That is clarity.

3.   Complexity not simplicity.

People are not dumb. Nevertheless, the KISS principle (Keep it simple, Simon) is always the better route. Why make ministry matters complex when we can make them simple? Simple wins out every time. In addition, we have a saying at the Malphurs Group that “less is more.” Simplicity always involves less, while complexity Involves more.

4.   Diffusing energy instead of directing energy.

People expend energy when involved in the various ministries of the church, and that energy can be either diffused or directed. It is the difference between a laser and a lightbulb. A laser directs or focuses energy, and this is what needs to happen with the primary ministries. All of our energy is to be focused on them, and people must focus on them if they are to become growing disciples. A lightbulb diffuses energy. And the secondary ministries do the same. They add to the ministries list and thus diffuse or distract energy away from the essentials.

5. Requiring staff and funding instead of freeing staff and funding.

Some secondary ministries require the involvement of staff and funds that the church would better spend on the primary ministries. We will see in the last two chapters that a church must both staff and budget around the essential primary disciple-making ministries not the elective nonessentials.

So what can the church with a rather sizable “ministry menu” do? I have at least three suggestions.

1. Some ministries can be eliminated.

The way to accomplish this is through evaluation. It is imperative that churches evaluate not only their people who are involved in ministry (both lay and staff) but their ministries.
Regardless of how you discontinue these ministries, be aware that when you start eliminating them, those who have been part of them will be upset with you. So make sure you communicate with these people. They need to know why you are eliminating some of their favorite ministries. And be prepared even to lose some of them from the church.

2. Make it difficult to start new ministries.

Keep the ministry menu lean. New secondary ministries must demonstrate a strong need for their existence, must have an in-house trained leader, must not require the services of the staff, must not depend on the budget for funding, must not attempt to raise funds from the congregation, and the leaders must be involved in the church’s leadership development program.

3. Tie some of the secondary ministries into the primary ones.

For example, vacation Bible school could become a regular part of the church’s primary evangelism strategy. A women’s Bible study could become an extension of the Sunday school ministry, and the same with a men’s Bible study. When you do this, you will need to communicate this constantly to your people. It is important that they connect what may have been a secondary ministry to the primary ministry, or the secondary ministry could become more important for some than the primary ministry. And they must be encouraged not to abandon a primary ministry for a secondary one. Secondary ministries are to augment not distract from a primary ministry The point here is that some former secondary ministries can supplement the primary ministries and enhance spiritual maturity However, I would still be reluctant to assign staff and funding to these ministries.

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Dr. Aubrey Malphurs (1944-2022) was the Founder of The Malphurs Group and a retired senior professor of leadership and pastoral ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Malphurs was an award-winning author of more than 25 books with titles focusing on strategic planning, leadership development, and organizational strategy.

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