under-program your church

One of the biggest dangers in many churches today is over-programming or being a “program-driven” church. Now, I’ve never heard a church that actually admitted to being program-driven. “Why yes, we are a program driven church!” Just the opposite! We go to great lengths to try to justify our busy-ness. In truth, nearly every church is over-programmed because there is a gravitational pull toward programs.

Here in Corbin, KY, I have been amazed to see that no matter the denomination, churches all offer the same programming with little if any variation–Sunday School, Sunday morning Worship, Sunday evening worship, and a midweek service. People are amazed when I tell them that this is the first church I’ve served in over 12 years that still does a Sunday night worship service! On top of that we add church dinners, socials, visitation programs…

I actually vowed that I would never take a position at another church that had Sunday night services because the Church is already over-preached and under-practiced. You gotta watch out when you say, “I’ll never ______!” But, the last thing Christians need is to consume another worship experience. We need to start applying some of what we have learned and stop consuming!

For too long, churches have equated attendance at worship services, events and programs with spiritual growth. Well, all we have to do is look around at the Church in North America and see the falsehood in that logic! But, to be fair, just because you follow a Simple Church model and offer fewer services, events or programs, it doesn’t mean your people are growing spiritually, either!

At our church, we are working on simplifying our services, events and programs. However, at the same time, we are attempting to develop a laser-like discipleship process. You see, our programs, events and services are just the means to and end. They should expose people to living their own life on mission in the world everyday. However, people have grown dependent on services, events and programs, and, as a result, the church has become dependent on the services, events and programs. It’s a co-dependent relationship!

The Church must train its people to move beyond relying on the worship services for their spiritual nourishment and equip them to have deep personal times with God on their own. We must move them beyond serving opportunities within the church to seeing the incredible needs in their community and serving their fellow man in the name of Jesus on their own. And, we must move them beyond visitation programs or mission trips to where they see their life as that of a missionary called to reach their neighbors, co-workers and classmates.

The services, events and programs are most important to new believers. But the Church must wean its people off of programs and then serve as spiritual coach and mentor instead of continuing to spoon feed believers.

The following is a reprint from Jared Wilson’s blog from Monday, April 26th on why we shouldn’t over-program our churches:

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well. Craig Groeschel has some great things to say about this subject. Also check out Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church.

2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness. A bustling crowd may not be spiritually changed or engaged in mission at all. And as our flesh cries out for works, many times filling our programs with eager, even servant-minded people is a way to appeal to self-righteousness.

3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community. If we’re all busy engaging our interests in and pursuits of different things, we will have a harder time enjoying the “one accord” prescribed by the New Testament.

4. Over-programming runs the risk of turning a church into a host of extracurricular activities, mirroring the “Type-A family” mode of suburban achievers. The church can become a grocery store or more spiritual YMCA, then, perfect for people who want religious activities on their calendar.

5. Over-programming dilutes actual ministry effectiveness. Because it can overextend leaders, increase administration, tax the time of church members, and sap financial and material resources from churches.

6. Over-programming leads to segmentation among ages, life stages, and affinities, which can create divisions in a church body. Certainly there are legitimate reasons for gathering according to “likenesses,” but many times increasing the number of programs means increasing the ways and frequencies of these separations. Pervasive segmentation is not good for church unity or spiritual growth.

7. Over-programming creates satisfaction in an illusion of success; meanwhile mission suffers. If a church looks like it’s doing lots of things, we tend to think it’s doing great things for God. When really it may just be providing lots of religious goods and services. This is an unacceptable substitute for a community on mission, but it’s one we accept all the time. And the more we are engaged within the four walls of the church, whether those walls are literal or metaphorical, the less we are engaged in being salt and light. Over-programming reduces the access to and opportunities with my neighbors.

8. Over-programming reduces margin in the lives of church members. It’s a fast track to burnout for both volunteers and attendees, and it implicitly stifles sabbath.

9. Over-programming gets a church further away from the New Testament vision of the local church. Here’s a good test, I think: take a look at a typical over-programmed church’s calendar and see how many of the activities resemble things seen in the New Testament.

10. Over-programming is usually the result of un-self-reflective reflex reactions to perceived needs and and an inability to kill sacred cows that are actually already dead. Always ask “Should we?” before you ask “Can we?” Always ask “Will this please God?” before you ask “Will this please our people?” Always ask “Will this meet a need?” before you ask “Will this meet a demand?”