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Healthy Church Growth: Programs vs. Path

Healthy Church Growth: Programs Vs. Path

I’ve observed something interesting in healthy, growing churches over the last several years.

The ones experiencing the most healthy growth tend to approach discipleship as a path. The leaders spend time thinking on how to best help people along in their journey following Christ. They spend their energy simplifying to offer people a series of next steps.

By contrast, many of the churches I see that are in decline have an overwhelming number of programs available to attendees and even the community, but no cohesive path that helps people learn which steps to take and when.

I drew this illustration and shared it on my blog a couple of years ago:

As you might imagine, there are several key differences between both types of churches:

1. How They Define “The Win”

Over-programmed churches see the win as getting more people involved in more activities. They wouldn’t say that, but it’s how they operate.

Ask any staff member about the momentum or success they are seeing in ministry, and you will almost always hear reports of how many people attended their last event, class or study.

Churches with a path see the win as helping more people take a next step. That common understanding unifies staff and simplifies decision making. If there’s no way to measure whether or not it helps people take a next step, they’re probably not going to do it.

2.  How They Decide What Gets Communicated

Over-programmed churches communicate everything. There’s competition among ministry leaders for people’s attention, and they often complain about lack of communications support for their area. The communications director is frustrated because there can be no strategy when everything is communicated all of the time.

Churches with a path communicate one thing. They help people take one step at a time. Communications is clear.

3.  How They Structure the Team

Over-programmed churches staff and structure their team around all of their programs. This naturally creates ministry silos and turf wars.

And, as I’m sure you can guess, churches with a path staff and structure their team around the path. This fosters collaboration as all staff are focused on helping people take their next step.

4.  How They Engage Volunteers

More programs mean more demand for volunteers. Over-programmed churches often feel like they don’t have enough volunteers, even when they have a high percentage of people engaged. They spread the pool of people they have too thin.

More focus means there’s less competition for volunteers and more freedom for people to serve based on their gifts and strengths, rather than just filling positions for an ever-growing list of needs.