You would think that church people would be good at funerals, but we aren’t. It seems instead that when it comes to programs and special events it’s, “Once done, always done,” or, as a staff member once quipped, “The show must go on!” But why?
Why must the first anything become the first annual something? Just because we did it last year, does that mean we’ve got to do it again next year and every year? How can you add anything new that fits today’s community and today’s congregation when everyone is exhausted from keeping yester year’s plates spinning. We hesitate to say, “This program has run its course well and now it is time to let it cease as we celebrate the good that has been accomplished, as we give thanks to those who made it possible, and as we reallocate our resources for greater missional impact for the future.” Instead we usually maintain on life support events that we need to let die with dignity.
Here are six natural signs that it may be time to celebrate a ministry’s life and let it die.
You know it’s time for a funeral when . . .
When finding leadership is getting increasingly difficult.
When the leaders that have made it possible in the past are tired and no one seems invested enough to step up and accept the responsibility of leadership, it may make sense to resist the urge to hand it off to paid staff and instead discern that, if Christ is not raising up someone to lead this, it may be His way of suggesting it is time to stop.
When energy seems to have gone out of it.
You can tell in your gut when people are just dutifully going through the motions because “we are supposed to,” but their hearts aren’t in it. When something is a blessing, when it breathes life, blessing and purpose into people, you can feel the energy of the Spirit at work. When the energy is no longer there, it’s probably because the program or event has ceased to be a blessing.
When people are less and less interested.
When you are having to ramp up the announcements in the bulletin or from the pulpit in order to cajole people into coming and fewer people seem to with each passing year, it may be because this thing has just run its course.
When the event is costing more and more money for less and less people.
When you see that an event is becoming increasingly expensive to keep it going for a dwindling few people, it may be time to pull the financial plug and invest limited dollars in something that is going to have a bigger impact on people’s lives.
When there is no longer a need.
Sometimes the need a program was designed to meet has ceased. Mothers Morning Out programs were designed for stay-at-home mothers to help one another get some time off from child care. But now most mothers are working at jobs during the day and have arranged full-time childcare. It makes sense to quit offering a programmatic fix for something that’s no longer an issue.
When you realize it doesn’t further the congregation’s mission.
This may be the trickiest to acknowledge and to act upon. The purpose of every congregation is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” If something doesn’t draw more people toward Christ, doesn’t help people grow to become more like Christ, and doesn’t have a kingdom impact in the community, you have to wonder why a congregation should be investing its limited resources (energy, time, people and money) in doing it. Just doing something because “we are good at it,” “people like it” or “it pays” when it doesn’t further the mission of the church is questionable. Especially when one or more of the above mentioned natural reasons for considering a funeral fit, this one should make the decision a no brainer.
One final thought: how you stop something politically is another matter and one that should be prayerfully considered. Not every issue is worth fighting now. Remember Jesus’ counsel: “Be gentle as doves and wise as serpents.” It might make sense to wait for a more opportune time to align the congregation’s use of resources with their mission. In other words, look for the natural indications that it may now be time for a funeral.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence