Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Weekend Comes First

It’s the economy, stupid!  James Carville

When Bill Clinton ran for the presidency in 1992, scoring an upset victory over incumbent George Bush Sr., his political strategist James Carville (the man pictured) made it very clear what their overarching strategy would be.  Hanging in every office was a single sign for everyone to see:  It’s the economy, stupid.

Any time someone came to James Carville saying “the polls say this or the polls say that”, or “the new hot issue is this or that,” he would point to the sign reminding them what it said.  By doing so, he kept his team on mission.  And that was the issue of the election.  It determined who won and who lost.  Thanks to Carville, Clinton focused relentlessly on the economy.  Bush didn’t.  Clinton won.

About eighteen months ago I gave a talk to our church leaders with this very idea in mind – being singularly focused on what most important.    Because mission-drift has a tendency to set in over time, and because vision leaks, I think it’s time for a refresher.

For us, it’s about the weekend.  It all begins right there.  It’s the main thing.  It’s the main event.  I'm not talking about theology here, the centrality of the Word, or the preeminence of Jesus Christ.  Those are settled issues.  I'm talking about the dynamics of ministry and which ones get priority.  We have decided that Sunday is the one day out of the week that we will devote most of our time, effort, energy, and resources into.  I will go to great lengths protecting the weekend service and we have rules around here to ensure that nothing ever competes with them.

Here’s why the weekend services are so important:

1.  The Sunday services are the LARGEST POINT OF ENTRY for people into our church.  More people attend on Sunday morning than any other time of the week.  This includes guests, regular attenders, and members.  This is where we have our largest gathering and opportunity for largest impact.  And just by virtue of its sheer size, more attention needs to be given to this event than anything else.  We have to make our biggest investment in the weekend services (in time, effort, energy, money, manpower, and other resources).

It simply doesn’t make much sense to divert the majority of our resources to other events (in the church) that are only serving a small minority.  Nor does it make much sense to exhaust ourselves in other efforts when the weekend services are the biggest event on the calendar.

We have made this mistake enough in the past.  When we first started PCC, we had people who wanted to start a church wide women’s ministry and a church wide men’s ministry.  Why?  Because other churches had them.  After a year or two, we realized that key leaders were being taken away from the weekend services, financial resources were being siphoned away, and we suffered for it - all for a small minority of our people.

Obviously, that doesn’t make much sense.

For a while we experimented with a Wednesday night service calling it “First Wednesday.”  We quickly discovered that it took about as much effort and planning to pull off as a Sunday service, but only about 85-to-100 people would show up for it.  So we canned that effort and it was liberating to do so.

The biggest mistake that I made in the history of our church occurred right after we moved into this building.  Everyone was excited about the building and wanted to launch new ministries.  Every time I turned around people were coming to me and asking, “Can I do this or do that?  Can I start this or start that?  Since I was totally overwhelmed with a barrage of requests, not to mention being spread too thin by a growing church, and because I didn’t have a good reason to say no, I simply said yes.

The next thing I knew we had ministries popping up all over the place.  The building was being used almost every night of the week and we didn't have the money to pay for it all.  It became a drain on our finances and we could barely pay our bills.  Then there were turf wars and building use conflicts.  And volunteers started suffering burnout. 

I woke up one day and didn't even recognize the ministry that I had allowed to be created.  We were a federation of sub-ministries with each one operating independently of our main misison and causing a significant drain on the whole.  These ministries were competing systems and we suffered for it.  Volunteers and key leaders were dissipating themselves so much during the week that when they came to church on Sunday they were tired, irritable, short tempered, or showed up late.  Some even skipped Sunday altogether!  I took corrective action and it was very, very painful. 

Since the weekend services are the main port of entry this has got to be our top priority.

2.  The Sunday services GENERATE OUR FINANCIAL RESOURCES.  This may come as a surprise, but it actually takes money to do ministry.  It takes super-sized cash the finance the ministry.  It takes money to build buildings, pay the power bill, purchase equipment and curriculum, and pay for services, etc.  And guess what?  The Sunday service is the very time and place where people bring their tithes and offerings to the church.  Typically, they do not give any other time of the week.

HERE’S THE POINT:  Since most people come to church on Sunday morning… since Sunday morning is the largest point-of-entry into our church…. and if this one day generates most of our financial resources…. then is makes good sense to do the very best we can on this day of the week.

 This is the day that pays the bills and enables us to fund our budget.  Plain and simple.  So it makes good sense, it makes good business sense, and it makes good gospel sense to put together the very best God-honoring, people-inspiring, believer-edifying church service that we can possibly put together.  From the parking lot, to the door greeters, hospitality, building cleanliness, children's ministry, nursery, music, sermon, ushers, to guest services, all of it, we absolutely must put our best effort here.

Right about now somebody is probably saying, “What about discipleship?  What about other important areas of the church?  Glad you asked.  This leads me to the next point…..

3.  AS THE WEEKEND GOES, so goes THE REST OF THE CHURCH.  If the weekend is not working well, then nothing else in the church is going to work well either. 

Look at it this way:   If people are not getting saved in the Sunday services, then you are not going to have anyone to disciple;  if people are not connecting with the weekend services, then there won’t be anybody to sign up for small groups or Bible classes; if money is not raised on Sunday, ministires don't get funded; and if the weekends are weak, all the others ministries will be weak too. 

If we are not firing on all eight cylinders in the weekend services, then everything else is going to fall short of its potential.  I mean, don’t even talk to me about a sports ministry, singles ministry, Christian education, or anything else if the weekend is not working well.  On the other hand, show me a church that has great weekend services and I’ll show you a church that has great ministries throughout the rest of the organization

The weekend services are the feeder to everything else in the church. It is the source that channels people into the other ministries of the church.  By having hundreds of people attending and connecting to the weekend, we have hundreds of people to channel into other varied ministries of the church.  But you’ve got to get the weekend healthy first.

Some people believe they can start sub-ministry out there and that it will help the church grow.  This almost never happens.  Aside from being a drain on resources, is always less effective than reversing the process. It is always MORE EFFECTIVE to use the Sunday services as a feeder into other ministries of the church…. simply because this is the largest pool of people.

We have been down this road at least 50 times before, so I know what I’m talking about.  In fact, the weekend services are so important that all of our paid staff are on duty that day and have responsibilities to make Sunday a great day. 

4.  We NEVER ALLOW anything to COMPETE with Sunday.  We don’t allow our any of our ministries to schedule a retreat that will take people out of the Sunday morning services.

We’ve made that mistake in the past.  I used to have ministry leaders that would take teenagers on camping trips over the weekend or schedule adult retreats to such places as the Walk to Emmaus, or some hole in the wall like Camp Tawanakee listening to Reverend So-and-So.  Each time this happened it took people out of our Sunday services, siphoned resources away, and took key leaders and volunteers away at a time when we needed them the most.

Of course, people are free to do what they want as individuals.  But we cannot allow any of our ministries or ministry leaders to schedule an event on a Sunday if it takes people, leaders, and resources away from the main church services.  We are already competing with things like the beach, sports, and other wordly activites to get people to church, so it’s downright stupid to compete with ourselves by taking them out.  We want our weekend services to be the focus of the weekend, so we don’t allow any ministry leader to schedule golf retreats, ladies retreats, men’s retreats, fishing trips, conferences, concerts, or anything on Sunday.

Even Saturday events are to be used with caution.  If a ministry in our church does some kind of all-day Saturday event, or a late night Saturday event and then half of the people are too tired to show up to church the next day, then that would be unacceptable too.

IN CONCLUSION:  The weekend is where guests experience our church for the first time.  It’s where we have our largest gathering for impact.  So the weekend really matters.  It matters a lot.


Jay Webster said...

Hey Ron, I love the blog and I know this is not a comment, but I would like to discuss some of your points on this page. For example, whats the difference between a women's "ministry" and a women's "small group"? Also, I agree that "ministries" might not directly grow the church, but they sure help keep the church together/stable/community/working/ACCOUNTABLE therefore inhibiting shrinkage. Maybe further discussion in person. Thanks, Jay

Ron said...

A women’s ministry is traditionally known one women’s group for the whole church. A women’s small group would be just that, a small group. The small group model has numerous advantages, the most noticeable being there could be dozens of such groups in the church as opposed to one. This also goes to our strategy of “Growing Larger and Smaller at the Same Time – larger in the weekend services and smaller through small groups.”

Yes, you are correct: internal ministries help a church stay together. We call this “assimilation” or “connection points” and is precisely why we emphasize them.

This is brief, but I'll be glad to chat more if you like.