4 Steps to Find, Support & Grow Your Church’s “Hidden” Ministries

HidingAre you frustrated with trying to get people in your church to step up and do ministry?

I know there are churches with bad histories (and a bad present) where this is a legitimate issue. In fact, I pastored one.

But in many churches, there may be more ministry happening than many pastors realize.

Pastors must learn to see, then support and promote ministry that’s already occurring within the church membership. But we often miss it because we have a far too limited view of what ministry really means.

Here’s an example.


Ministry? What Ministry?

Recently, I was chatting with a fellow pastor who was having a rough time getting people to step up and lead ministries in his church.

“They’re all too busy doing their own things outside the church,” he said.

“Like what?” I asked.

He then told me about three church leaders who were working with youth – one at a teen suicide hotline, one as a High School tutor, one doing job training. Two other church leaders were working with seniors. One was a leader in their local Celebrate Recovery ministry. And one couple volunteered at a local battered women’s shelter. The others were busy parents.

I was stunned. Literally. I stood in front of this pastor with my mouth open, but silent.

When I finally collected myself, I asked him, as lovingly as I could, “are you crazy?” (I know, subtle, right?)

“What do you mean?” he asked with genuine befuddlement.

“They’re doing ministry,” I told him. “Great ministry. The kind of ministry more church members should be doing. I’m trying to be sympathetic, but can you explain to me what exactly the problem is with this? I must be missing something.” 

“I need more people on the worship team,” he said. “And none of them are showing up for home groups, let alone helping to lead them. My wife and I are running all those ministries ourselves, including the youth group, the benevolence ministry… everything!”

He was genuinely distressed, so I took a deep breath and told him, “I know what that feels like. For too many years my wife and I were stuck in that same trap. But maybe you should stop doing ministries no one seems to want and ask them how the church can help them in the ministries they’re already doing.”

“But…” he stammered, “…that’s not ministry.” He then went on to explain how none of the things his church members were doing qualified as “real” ministry. It all came down to three things. 1) They weren’t started by the church, 2) they weren’t under the control of the church and 3) they weren’t happening at the church.

We chatted a little while longer, but I never could get him to see the ministry that his church members were already doing. He and I both left the conversation more frustrated and annoyed than when it started.


4 Steps To Successful Outside-the-Box Ministry

I have some sympathy for my fellow pastor, because it wasn’t long ago that I was trapped in the same small-minded thinking about what ministry is and isn’t.

We have to think bigger than this.

Here are four steps I use to find and support great ministry that our church people are already doing.

1. Listen to your church members
Get outside the office. Talk with people. But listen even more. Take note of what they share about on Facebook and Instagram.

2. Determine which of those things the church can support
Say “yes” to the neighborhood canned food drive and to the football coach who wants you to pray with the team before the game. Say “no” to anything that promotes something unbiblical.

3. Ask them how the church can help
As an example, when a couple in our church decided to become foster parents, I read on Facebook that they were having a hard time buying all the materials, including home safety equipment, that the government requires to take in foster kids. So I got in touch with them, asked them to make a list, then presented the list to the church members. Here’s what happened…

4. Get everyone involved
Within a couple weeks, our church members bought every item on the prospective foster parents’ list. We piled everything in an impressive mountain on the church platform and revealed it in a big celebrative flourish during a Sunday morning service. What was almost impossible for two people to buy was easy when the entire church stepped up.


Real Help In a Busy World

People are busier now than ever before. In a previous generation, people wanted their church to add more events to their calendar to give them something to do.

Not any more.

Today, some of the best ministry a church can offer – for its members and its community – is to ease people’s burdens and calendars, not add to them.

Sometimes ministry comes dressed in clothes we don’t recognize. Let’s not miss it when it shows up.


So what do you think? What ministries are your church members already doing that your church could help with?

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(Hiding photo from Kris Krug • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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2 thoughts on “4 Steps to Find, Support & Grow Your Church’s “Hidden” Ministries”

  1. I’m sympathetic to both sides of the issue. On one hand, if we can’t get volunteers for the worship team, the kids ministry, benevolence etc,, pretty soon all those people who are busy doing really good stuff outside the church walls begin to ask “why should I go to XYZ church. They don’t have much of a worship team, there’s nothing for my kids, and why isn’t anyone paying attention to the sick and elderly?” On the other hand, I don’t think God ever intended ‘ministry’ to be confined to the authorized programs of any particular local church and I thank God every time I hear of someone associated with our congregation who is engaged in serving God as they serve others no matter where that is occurring. I’ve tried to walk what I see as a fine line here by limiting pastoral imposed ministries to exactly two–Sunday worship in music (Worship Team), and Sunday kid’s ministry. When our church plant was still pretty new, we lost our volunteer worship leader and I though that ministry was so important I hired a part-time worship leader from the big city 85 miles away. The kid’s ministry is an absolute necessity because parents will not keep coming if there’s nothing for their kids so I coerced my wife to lead that. Every other ministry initiative has been organic, and if the leaders say we want out, and no one is there to pick it, that ministry is allowed to fold.

  2. I have had two experiences. I had a church leader who was also a scout leader as well as operating a community center which reached out to disenfranchised youth in the community. I thought what a ready made opportunity for the church to back a great community outreach. When I spoke with this church leader, his reaction floored me. He said, ‘I do this because it isn’t church and I don’t have to be spiritual’ he wanted the churches in town to financially support his effort but wanted little if any other assistance from us.

    On the opposite side, I have two senior couples who volunteer every other week at the local elementary school breakfast program. We have gotten on board supporting this effort as a church.

    The challenge I am finding is that more and more people are opting out of volunteering for the traditional in house church ministries. For a small church where both the pastor and his wife are working full time outside the curch, is putting more and more pressure on us as these same people are demanding these ministries. The result is I have seen one major family leave for a larger church down the road.

    The trend I see happening as a result is that more and more traditional ministries will be dropped unless the churches pay for a professional to do them

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