Ministry Sustainability – Transitioning Plans

Eventually all groups arrive at transitional points – participants may come and go, new programs and initiatives start or wind down, and ministries emerge or (hopefully not) close down. My own experience had to with leaving one ministry that I had initiated to start another. We had a thriving group at one church that had been consecrated over three years previous, when one of the clergy there told me of their intention to plant a new, conference-approved church startup a couple miles away.

The plan was to create a “coffee house” church with baristas, and open seating at tables, with buffet-style brunch, and soft, live jazz music. It was intended to be a paradigm of post-modernism with no pews, no singing, and an uncomplicated message. It was tailored to appeal to the “unchurched, the dechurched, and the non-churched.” I gave it quite a bit of thought since I had been a member of my current church for over 16 years, but when clergy at my current church asked congregants to attend the “church down the road” I took them up on it.

I immediately thought how the new model would appeal to the recovery community that I’d been part of for over 25 years – relaxed, invitational, and easy going. I immediately invited acquaintances from 12 step programs who showed some interest. Within six months, a substantial percentage of the congregation was composed folks from the recovery community. I was asked to form a 12 Step meeting, which took shape on Saturday evenings and addressed the needs of a mixed (dual-addicted) population. We also engaged in outreach to local recovery programs. Eventually, the roots of a new Faith Partners team began to spring up.

This is not to say that the original Faith Partners was left rudderless. The 14 ministry participants were fully engaged. In the time we’d been up and running, we’d met regularly a couple times a month, reached out to the church community and provided services covering a variety of addiction issues; surveyed the congregation; we’d devised a regular (monthly) guest speaker program; we’d connected with community services – the local Board of Education, MADD, and such – for advocacy issues; we’d created awareness programs for church youth, and we’d continued to engage community treatment programs with monthly dinners. By the time that I departed from my leadership role, I felt comfortable in turning things over. Time would tell.

I revisited the monthly meetings almost two years later, in order to get some feedback on a video presentation that I had proposed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that attendance was still strong. One person had moved in the interim, two people had dropped out, but two new participants had come on board. Toward the end of the meeting session, I offered some additional thoughts apart from the proposed presentation. I mentioned that attendance was still strong, to the group’s credit, and asked about the programs that the group was involved with. I was informed that all the same engagements were ongoing with the exception of the one on one work with congregants. That was being rectified by the new inclusion of a member with a counseling background. I suggested that it was statistically probable that a new ministry might typically meet its demise following the departure of the founding personalities. I gained insight into what it takes to successfully transition:

  1. The significance of group cohesion was extremely important. The team had bonded and members felt committed to each other.
  2. A variety of interests engaged participants at their own skill level, and allowed them to grow.
  3. Leadership roles were shared among ministry participants.
  4. Even when clergy involvement fluctuated, the ministry was still represented at church council meetings.
  5. Oddly enough, participants were rarely recruited. Once the ministry message was offered, they typically just came forward. The purpose of the ministry was widely recognized and endorsed.

It was gratifying to realize that the comments I received underscored the ministry itself. My objective was always to develop a ministry, give it time and effort to grow legs, and then turn it over so that someone could run with it.

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