In 1998 I was handed a book, Where Do We Go From Here? written by Dr. Ralph Neighbour, which struck a chord in my heart and caused me to examine my philosophy of ministry and make a radical shift away from traditional church programming by immersing myself in the small group church movement. I have helped several churches transition to successful small group structures that helped connect people and cultivate deeper community.
The success I’ve experienced caused me to be somewhat cynical about traditional church programming until I encountered a church that had both programs and small groups. There were healthy and unhealthy programs and small groups coexisting at the same time. It was this experience that helped me understand the qualities of a healthy program.
Not all programs are unhealthy. Some serve churches quite well, and the ones that do share similar qualities that I’d like to share with you.
1. Healthy programs are started by people. A church should never initiate a program without being approached by a person that is passionate about starting it. Behind every great program is a person that has a great passion and vision for the program to succeed. A program that is initiated by the church staff will need to be sustained by the church staff. I remember being approached by a compassionate couple with a huge heart for the homeless population that was attending our church. They asked me what our church was currently doing for the homeless at a time when we were not doing anything at all. My response was, “What is your heart for the homeless?” They went on to explain their heart to feed the homeless and how they could do it. I then responded, “Your heart for the homeless is our church’s heart for the homeless! Let’s do it!” Five years later they have gathered a team and have a program that feeds over 300 meals one time a month. They started it and have taken the responsibility to run it!
2. Healthy programs have a launch date and an expiration date. Most church programs are launched with a now “until Jesus comes” mindset. Every healthy program serves a purpose, a certain place, for a certain season. Healthy programs have a start time and end time so they can be improved, evaluated and if necessary ended. As seasons change expiration dates on programs give churches an opportunity to discontinue a program which has served it’s purpose well. When a program is discontinued it doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful, it means seasons have changed.
3. Healthy programs create life. Unfortunately I’ve seen programs suck the life right of people. Indicators that a program is sucking life rather than creating life are: it is hard to find a volunteer to lead it, no one is showing up, there is a lack of preparedness and organization, the announcement about it is better than the experiencing it, and it leaves a trail of people behind that our burnt up and burned out. Programs creating life are catalysts for momentum. Supporting ministries are better because of it, and people are encouraged, equipped and empowered to live out what they are learning.
I know there are more qualities than this! What would you add to the list of healthy qualities?