Unexamined Expectations about Priorities and Commitments

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Warning: What you are about to read is still baking.  In fact, I’m not sure it ever is fully baked.

What ministry opportunities are you going to prioritize?  What commitments will you challenge your members to make?  Have you ever carefully examined expectations about priorities and commitments in your congregation?  How recently?

The way you answer these questions has a lot to do with your ability to build a dynamic small group ministry. This is a very important concept.  May be a review for some, but I believe that unexamined expectations about priorities and commitments are often at the root of the difficulties many churches have in their attempt to launch small groups.

Here’s the scenario:

Unless you serve in a church planted in the last 25 years or so, chances are you have a variety of programs that were standard features of the previous generation.  For example:

  • Sunday school for adults (attended by some percentage of your adults, but not anywhere close to all).  See But We Have Adult Sunday School for more.
  • An on-campus mid-week opportunity that is for the whole family.  It may be a combo platter of Wednesday night prayer meeting (or a believer’s service if influenced by Willow Creek), choir practice, adult electives, children’s programming (like Awana), and activities for students.
  • Sunday evening service.

Sound familiar?  Probably.  In my experience, some version of this scenario is being played out at some level in well over 50% of all churches.

Why is this an issue? Although there are exceptions, the forms of a previous generation can stand in the way of pervasive small group ministry.  Why?  Not because the adult Sunday school, a Sunday evening service or on-campus opportunities are bad in themselves.  Instead, the priorities and commitments of long term participants are a smokescreen that can keep church leadership from taking two very important steps:

First, unearthing the assumptions that are the foundation for the priorities and commitments of long-term participants.  This works with our schedule.  Our children came to know Jesus through this program.  God speaks to me through verse-by-verse teaching.  Anything wrong here?  No.  It just makes a difference to get to the bottom of the priorities and commitments of long-term participants.

Evaluating the likelihood of widespread adoption of those same priorities and commitments.  This is where there can be a deal breaker or two.  How?  Just because attending the worship service and staying for a Sunday school class works for a portion of your attendance doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.  After all, just coming to the worship service is a big move for many unchurched neighbors and friends.  Stay from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.?  Counter cultural when watching a one hour television program in 42 minutes is the norm.

Abandon legacy programs in spite of the priorities and commitments of long-term participants?  Not so fast.  Nothing should be off limits for examination, and there may be good reasons to continue to offer programs and opportunities that benefit some but not all.  At the same time, the priorities and commitments of long-term participants shouldn’t stand in the way of promoting a solution that meets the needs of unconnected people.
Might there be a time when hard choices are made?  Absolutely.  For example, your leadership may conclude that offering Awana allocates valuable volunteer resources or prime time on-campus space to a program that primarily attracts members of other area churches.  Or you may determine that the staff and volunteer efforts to fuel a mid-week believer service or prayer meeting could be better invested in developing small group resources.  In fact, you may conclude that the potential impact of a pervasive small group ministry makes it important to eliminate programs that compete for resources.
“Leaders allocate the finite resources of the organization to the critical growth path.”  Carl George
Which reminds me of another great line:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  Philippians 2:3-4

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. debo on October 24, 2012 at 5:43 am

    As I read through this, I think that it is a both/ and situation- and one that reaches many in a variety of venues. Although – simplicity is a key strategy here; broad and shallow can quickly overcome narrow and deep unless we are constantly on our knees about it all. After all, it is all His:) thanks for making me think!

  2. markchowell on October 24, 2012 at 8:02 am

    It is a challenging issue, isn’t it? Every situation demands the best thinking.


  3. BrandonBaker on October 24, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Unearthing the assumptions…”Our children came to know Jesus through this program.” Many adults project their own childhood faith experience on current youth programming. This makes it difficult to change priorities when these adults become leaders in the church. Great post. It’s like chocolate chip cookies, doesn’t have to be baked to be good. Thanks.

  4. markchowell on October 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks Brandon!