What To Do When Your Church Programs Just Aren’t Working

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You don’t have to go far to see church signs proclaiming their next big event or their latest trendy program.

And as pastors, this can make us feel some heat. Are our events and programs up to par with those at other churches? Do we need them at all? Or worse yet, what if we’ve launched some ideas that just aren’t panning out the way we had hoped? 

It can be hard to know how to shape your church’s programs, and what to do when they meet a dead end. But I’ve learned how to manage this, practically and spiritually. Here are some tips. 

1. Revisit their purpose. 

First, think about your vision and core values. Are the programs you have in place connected to these guiding lights? If not, they likely never should have existed in the first place. For example, think about all the churches that have harvest parties at the end of October approaches. They look really fun, and a lot of people enjoy attending them. But while having a harvest party may be the popular thing to do, it just doesn’t really align with my church’s vision. So we don’t have one. 

However, outreach through hospitality and a come-as-you-are mentality matters a great deal to us (in fact, hospitality is one of our core values). So we have a family dinner at the end of every month. We have people in our congregation who are skilled in this area (restaurant owners, catering company owners, etc.) and it works for us to do this. Even more importantly, it reinforces part of our vision: that we’re here to serve and provide hospitality to others. It’s also a monthly way we can reach out to the community, which we prefer over a festive party once a year. This is an example of a program that makes sense and furthers our values. If a program doesn’t check those boxes, it shouldn’t exist. 

2. Admit when you’re wrong. 

There was a period of time when I was especially gung-ho about starting a strong, biblically-based, scholastic teaching on Wednesday nights. But we launched this idea, and only had a few people show up every week. Upon reflection, we realized that it wasn’t working because we have a lot of young families in our church who have commitments during weekday evenings. 

Regardless, I didn’t want to admit that I had been wrong. I got caught up in my pride and wanted to keep trying to hold this teaching even though it was clear it wasn’t working. Eventually, though, I admit it was wrong for our church. We ended up offering this teaching on Sunday mornings before our regular service when people would be coming to church already. 

The basis of the program had been a good idea, but the logistics had been all wrong. Once we realized where the issues were, we were able to create something that served our members (and our church as a whole) much better. But I first had to admit I had been wrong.

3. Practice setting start and end dates. 

Whenever you start something new, I strongly recommend putting in place a start and end date. This applies to programs, as well. The reason this works so well is that it gives you a natural “out” if something isn’t taking shape the way you wanted it to. For instance, we started a ladies’ event on Friday nights and gave it a start and end date. Once that end date came, we were able to evaluate whether it was worth continuing. If we didn’t have that end date in mind, it would feel much harder to have that conversation and possibly ax a program abruptly. 

This also helps your church members decide whether they can commit to something new. If they realize they can try it just for a season, they may be more likely to get involved since there’s a clear finish line in place.

4. Realize the heart of it all.

When all is said and done, we have to boil this down to what the early church was founded upon. Quickly after forming, and being filled afresh by the Holy Spirit, we see four core concepts that work as a blueprint for how all ministries should flow. God’s Word teaches us about our role as disciples. Acts 2:42 says, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals…and to prayer.” These are the things we’re called to do. And while these core four actions can be modernized in how you practice them, the intention behind them remains as it was in biblical times.  

Note that the Word doesn’t say you must have programs, or you must have as many events as megachurches do. I know we couldn’t do that at my church, even if we wanted to. We don’t have paid staff or the resources to pull off that kind of schedule. But that’s okay. In fact, we’re far better off remembering our mission and ensuring that every single event or program we offer is geared toward pointing people toward Christ. 

So where are you with your programs and events? Are you getting caught up in competition, and feeling pressure to do what everyone else is doing? I challenge you to reflect on your vision and core values, and make sure your church calendar is aligned to both.  

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