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5 Principles to Move Those Sacred Cows

Many years ago, I was serving as pastor of a church where I was an avid supporter of door-to-door outreach. But I struggled with leading people to be involved in the ministry. We kept decent records, so I got the old “outreach cards” for the previous year. My brief research shocked me.

I estimated that we had invested nearly 1,500 hours of our members’ time in this ministry during the past year. The apparent result of our ministry had resulted in, at best, two Christian families joining our church. If you assume a workday of eight hours, our members had worked 187 full days with no evangelistic fruit.

The Encounter.

When I presented my research to a leader in the church and suggested we look at other alternatives, he raised his voice almost to a scream: “But we have always done it that way. And 10 years ago we saw dozens of people become Christians through this ministry every year. We’re not about to change!”

When I asked what we should do about the 1,500 hours of apparently fruitless ministry, he said we should try to increase the number to 3,000 hours.

The Memory.

Don’t get me wrong. Your church may have great success in door-to-door outreach. My purpose in writing this article is not to pass judgment on a methodology. My purpose is to ask the question: Are organizational memories, commonly known as sacred cows, hindering our effectiveness for the gospel?

In my church, there were great memories of this method of outreach. The thought of looking to other, more effective, alternatives almost seemed to violate some sacred principle. Interestingly, some of the most vociferous opponents of change were those who no longer participated in the ministry.

The Honesty.

Fortunately, we were able to get beyond the emotions to have an honest and frank discussion about the ministry. I brought together leaders from both sides of the issue. We discovered two main reasons our ministry was running into roadblocks that it did not have 10 years earlier.

First, many of the neighborhoods had transitioned from deep south transplants to northern transplants. The latter group was not culturally acclimated to people “just dropping by.” Second, about one-third of the residents were in gated communities, a significant increase from 10 years earlier.

We came away from that meeting with a few changes that kept us outwardly focused without the frustration of the old methodology. The critics did not disappear immediately, but we were able to deal with them without major disruption.

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thomrainer@churchleaders.com'
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.