Spears, tridents, pitchforks, and rakes

I am concerned about the focus of the church, or its lack of focus. There was a time when the church in the United States was relatively financially flush and spent its money on a variety of ministries. Churches had food pantries, libraries, gyms, etc. I’ve even heard of a church that had a minister of softball!

My concern with this is that lots of organizations do those same things. Some of those organizations are Christian, while others are completely secular; some do it well and some don’t. But there are others out there doing this work. So, why does a church feel the need to replicate what is already being done by others especially in today’s very tight financial economy? I fully believe that churches should be involved in social ministries, I just don’t think those ministries have to be located inside and paid for by the church. Take advantage of the economies of scale of several groups working together.

Here’s my challenge to churches: stay on your mission-critical path. Focus on those things that no one else is doing. Concentrate on what you were tasked to do by Jesus Christ. Do what is in the marrow of your bones. Stay away from things that lead to mission creep.

Instead, if a church member wants to start a ministry, ask that person to find out what other groups are doing the same type of work in your area. The other groups may or may not be Christian, but that doesn’t matter; we don’t always work with Christians, we work for Christ. Next, find out which of those groups is the most effective, most efficient, and financially transparent in what they are doing. Finally, ask them if they could use additional volunteers and perhaps an occasional financial gift–and then partner with them.

Churches don’t need to use their resources to accomplish everything. They need to use their resources strategically. There are three main resources a church has: buildings, money, and people. When a church uses one, two, or all of these for a ministry within their own walls, they may take away resources that could be used for the church’s critical path needs. And, when a church uses some of its resources in a ministry outside its buildings, it gets its people and money to be involved and invested in the community–exactly what Jesus asked us to do.

Every manager knows that he or she can focus on 3-7 goals at any given time, at a maximum. Do anything more and projects began to suffer; resources get scarce. Businesses know to concentrate on no more than five major items at one time (for confirmation, read any book by business guru Jim Collins). ITT is a great example of business that decided it could do everything at the same time. You’ve never heard of ITT? That is probably because it went bankrupt decades ago.

Churches need to learn from businesses and remain focused on a primary goal: sharing the Good News of Christ. Extraneous ministries are good, but they can be done by church members volunteering at other well-run organizations. They will still be able to explain their motivation in helping others: because of their desire to share and exemplify God’s love.

Here’s an analogy: if you take one piece of steel, you can shape it into a spear, trident, or even a pitchfork and those one, three, or five points can make a very strong impact. Those points are always going in the same direction and are virtually unbreakable. That same piece of steel can be made into a rake which has 20 or 30 prongs which bend every which way and sometimes don’t even work together, bend at awkward angles, or even break off.

I challenge every church to be a spear, a trident, or a pitchfork–singularly focused, very strong, and unified in its mission. Too many churches are like rakes going in lots of different directions with a wide variety of ministries. Use your resources strategically; use them for the Kingdom of God and the path on which God has set the church.

Steve Law

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Steve Law is owner and principal of Financial Leadership for Churches and Non-profits, LLC. He currently works with several churches and faith-based organizations to help them maximize their financial resources and potential. Contact him at www.financeforchurches.org for more information.

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