Programmed for Programs

Flag_crowdPart of the United States culture is excess. If bigger is better than more is best. We are people of extremes. We think moderation is synonymous with the status-quo. What we gain in initiative we lose in balance.

“Go big or go home.”

“If you’re not first your last.”

“If you’re going to be a bear be a grizzly bear.”

“If it’s too loud you’re too old.”

Our tendency towards extremes, at times, hinders our ability to communicate and discuss controversial topics.

Questioning the rationale of same-sex marriage legislation makes you homophobic.

Disagreeing with President Obama makes you a racist.

Agreeing with President Obama makes you a socialist.

Wondering if gun control is a good idea means you are against the Constitution.

Believing in a literal 7 day creation week means you are unintelligent.

Believing in any form of theistic evolution makes you a heretic who rejects the Bible.

It’s maddening!

Knowing our tendency to immediately rush to extremes should have made me aware that questioning children’s programming in the church would automatically mean I am against all programs. I guess we are programmed for programs. I brought up the error of being program driven in a blog about the crisis of millennials leaving the church. My point was that I think a major reason for millennials leaving the church is because they have never really been to church in the first place. From birth, all the way through high school, they bounce from one church program to the next; and too often the programs are designed to entertain them and please the parents instead of disciplining them into the body of Christ. I completely understand that programs are a necessity in the church (my church has programs, though we keep them to a minimum) just like organization is a necessity (my church is organized though we keep it to a minimum). My problem is when programs run the church instead of the church running the programs. Within the church, programs are a means to an end not an end in themselves. I think most programs begin as an attempt to meet a specific need. When the need is met the program is deemed successful and continues. Eventually the program becomes an animal that constantly needs to be fed. Finally the goal of the program is no longer to meet a need but to keep the program alive. Far too often the program becomes the end and keeping the program alive becomes the primary goal. That is my gripe about being program driven.

Balance is the key and we are terrible at balance.

activitiesHow do you know if your church’s programs are running (and ruining) the church? Here are 6 warning signs:

  • You have to constantly beg (I mean recruit) volunteers to staff the program. (Often, guilt is the primary recruitment tool.)
  • Getting rid of the program would cause serious division in the church.
  • No one remembers (or even knows) the reason the program was started in the first place.
  • The programs receive more attention than corporate worship.
  • The program does nothing to further the unique vision and mission of the church, yet it continues.
  • People attend, participate, and volunteer for the program out of a sense of duty instead of mission.

What warning signs would you add to this list?

Programs are tools and are not sacred. All over the world churches are growing and thriving without top notch facilities and programs and specialized ministries. The gospel is about proclaiming that in Jesus the kingdom of God becomes a present reality. The gospel is not a program, and that is good news because the effectiveness of the gospel has nothing to do with the size of your church or your facilities or you budget. Anyone and everyone can spread the gospel. Even your church and you don’t need programs to do it.

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6 thoughts on “Programmed for Programs

  1. Kevin, you are “spot on” here. I belong to a church that is huge, has a lot of ministers and staff, and so many programs it is hard to keep up. I love my church and they fall into the trap you describe in some ways (not in all ways), but I agree that churches must constantly guard against the fight for busy-ness versus business versus ministry. I have had this discussion with my Christian friends (and full staff minsters). The truth that it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven applies to churches as well as people. Wealth is not evil, but it sucks us in to 3 problems:(1) defining our success by it, (2) making us very busy to hold on to it, and (3) making us prideful. Churches through the centuries have developed into businesses, some with holy business plans and some not so much. They have budgets, buildings, websites, assets, managers, employees, business plans, 5 year goals, etc.,etc.. The staffs become salespeople and promoters, the members become customers being served. Staffs must justify their job with ideas, plans, programs, busy-ness; otherwise why does the church (business) need them? The members pay the salaries so they expect results and service for their money. Besides, they have their own jobs they have to focus on so they can support the church (business). I often think this is why Paul never built a building or took a salary. He knew the danger of getting in the “church business”.

  2. Kevin, I enjoy the discussions on “big church, small church” pros and cons. I challenge you, as a pastor, to ask yourself these questions:
    1. do you want your church to grow?
    2. if God blessed you with 400% growth in the next 2 years, would you need a bigger facility and more staff?
    3. if you answered yes to #2, would you expect the building and staff to be able to run and support activities that ministered to and equipped your growing congregation?
    4. if you answered yes to #3, are you note being sucked into “programs” that you say are a problem?
    Just sayin’.

  3. Divepix’s comment does not seem to define growth. Is it numerical or spiritual. It appears to me to be numerical and if so misses the whole point of the article.

    • I was referring to numerical, but it is still valid questions. I was not assuming the answers, but how many pastors would honestly consider numerical growth in their church as a curse, not a blessing? I’m sure Kevin’s church has grown since he started it. Would he call that a bad thing or a blessing? Numerical growth can be a valid goal if we believe more people need to be taught and ministered to, and if the church is meeting the standards of scripture. If we are committed to spiritual growth, will not numerical growth occur, since Christ is attractive? SO, my questions still stand. How does a church respond when God brings legitimate, healthy numerical growth?

      • Hey Rick,

        Early in my ministry I would have been all about numerical growth and would have loved to seen my church grow by 400%.

        I still would, but what I would do with that growth has changed. I pray if that ever happened to me my first choice would not be to build bigger buildings and hire more staff and start more programs that makes everything about the church what goes on in the church.

        I would like to think that now I would be constantly pushing people outside the church, encouraging them to go and start another church and instead of starting programs inside the church that needs volunteers from inside the church, I would rather partner with all the agencies in the community who are doing the real work on the ground and resource them with people and finances. By agencies I mean everything from CASA to homeless shelters to jobs programs to the Harpeth River Watershed, etc…

        Again, I am not against programs, but think at times we go overboard and wear our people out with activities.

        On another note, please know that I have nothing but respect for your church and your pastor. Everything I know about him is positive and he has influenced more people for Christ than I ever will.

        I just think we need to do some serious rethinking about how we do church in the USA. After 60+ years of church growth emphasis and all kinds of innovative programs, the growth of Christianity in America has not kept up with population growth. We are losing ground and by percentages, fewer people are going to church today than before all the emphasis on church growth 60+ years ago. We have a problem.

  4. Kevin, great response. I was not picking at you, just curious as to how a church (and you explained your feeling well) who is following their calling can resist growth, and if they grow, how can they avoid growing their facilities, staff, programs, etc.. I don’t think the churches that have too many programs (I believe our does even though I agree with most they have) purposefully lose their mission. It is a very subtle slippery slope that usually follows big budgets, big staffs, and a lot of professional religious workers. Just IMO.

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