Are we that brilliant? No. We just don’t start new ministries any more. We try experiments, instead.
If I were to start the turnaround process in a church again, this is the #1 rule I would follow from Day 1 – outside of scriptural principles, that is.
Put an expiration date on every new idea.
The principles in God’s Word are perfect, timeless and never need to be changed. Everything else is up for grabs.
Don’t Announce Ministries, Experiment with Ideas
I’ve never had a perfect ministry idea in my life. I don’t ever expect to. Even my best ones run out of steam after a while. Many of the ideas I think are great, end up being stinkers pretty quickly. (No, I’m not going to give you any examples.)
So, instead of launching a new idea as “the way we’re going to do ministry from now on”, we tell people “Hey, we have this fun, new idea we’re going to try until the end of the summer!” Or December, or until Easter…
Then, at the end of the summer, if it doesn’t work, it stops happening, just like we announced it would. No failure, no problem. If it does work, we keep doing it. Maybe we extend it for another three or six months at first. If it keeps working, it just stays on.
(I have to give credit for this to Gary Garcia, my youth pastor for 20+ years and counting. He suggested going “summer casual” more than a dozen years ago, and I haven’t had to wear a tie since.)
Experimentation is one of the advantages a Small Church has. In a larger church, the congregation expects a level of excellence in every ministry from the moment it’s launched. In a Small Church, people can live with a longer learning curve.
Putting expiration dates on ministries has several advantages. Here are a few. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments, below.
27 Advantages of Using Ministry Expiration Dates
1. If the idea is a non-starter, you don’t have to live with it for long.
2. Failures aren’t failures any more. They’re just experiments that reached their expiration date.
3. Extending an experiment that works is easier than killing a permanent ministry that doesn’t.
4. People can live with almost anything if they know it isn’t permanent.
5. The leadership loses their reputation for being stubborn.
6. People are more likely to give it a fair try if they know they’re not stuck with it.
7. The best way to know if something works is to try it. That’s why companies beta-test their new products.
8. You can get feedback from the congregation while you’re trying it, instead of hearing arguments about why it won’t work, and “I told you so” if it doesn’t.
9. You can field test several ideas and choose the best one, or create a hybrid of the best ones.
10. It helps people become more open to new ideas.
11. New church members don’t feel like latecomers to everything.
12. You don’t have to “sell” anyone on anything. Good ideas sell themselves, and bad ones disappear.
13. People feel more comfortable offering up their ideas. And you can try more of them out, with less risk.
14. Trying new ideas is fun.
15. It’s more cost-effective. You don’t invest a lot of money until the experiment has worked.
16. It’s easier to raise the needed money after people have tried it and liked it.
17. It creates an environment that makes it easier to end long-term ministries that reached their expiration date long ago.
18. It’s easier to find leaders when they know how long the commitment will last. And if it works, they’re more likely to continue. If not, you have someone who can train the next leaders.
19. Some people are starters, not maintainers. This gives them a role they can fill.
20. More new things can happen. There’s nothing like new ideas to attract new people.
21. It sparks an environment of creativity and innovation.
22. It reduces territorialism.
23. The church becomes more adaptable to shifts in the culture, the community and the congregation.
24. Some ideas can be rotated in and out on a seasonal basis, if that’s what works best for them.
25. It matches how people make commitments now. In chunks, rather than over indefinite periods of time.
26. There’s less burden on the leadership to be make perfect decisions.
27. When biblical principles are permanent, but the congregation’s ideas are temporary, it reinforces what we really value.
So what do you think? Are there any other advantages to putting expiration dates on new ministries?
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