I was excited! I had taken half of the day off to prepare the meal, printed the recipes, purchased all of the right ingredients, lined up all of the necessary cooking tools and instruments, and mentally prepared to do the work that was ahead of me. I was going to prepare a fancy meal for my family.
Four hours later, after bragging about what I was going to do, the meal was completed, the house smelled amazing, and the plates looks great. Dinner is served! Only my wife and I eat; our kids look at the plates and revolt! Instead of this lavish, fine-prepared, healthy, balanced meal, they asked for leftovers. Can you believe it? I was devastated!
Didn’t they understand all of the work and effort that was put into preparing their meal? And especially since I am not a regular chef in my home, I wanted to prove my worth as a cook. Actually, being devastated was an understatement. My meal wasn’t wasted. My wife and I loved it, but I guess in hindsight I should have considered the desires of my audience. Truthfully, I only considered my own desires.
In church operations, I think we build our ministry approach to events, programming, and planning similar to my family meal episode.
A few staff or highly involved leaders make assumptions about who’s really sitting in the pew and what their desires (and needs) are, and build programs and initiatives around those assumptions.
And the truth is, the intended audience scatters! Our educational initiatives results in less than stellar participation. Our family nights host the same families repeatedly. Our youth ministries end up catering to the few rather than the multitudes. To take it a step further, even if we have a large attendance, have we determined if there is true growth, both in discipleship and community?
I think it’s high time to turn the tide on this approach. The determination for all of us as we approach ministry is to really determine, who’s in the pew? There’s a host of biblical approaches and common business practices that we can utilize in ministry to advance these concepts. I want to provide a few:
1. Ask them!
It sounds so simple, but many have simply failed to ask the people we’re called to serve their opinion. It seems pretty straight forward that if we are to provide programming that draw people, we should ask those people their thoughts. Apart of your annual calendar should involve intentional strategies to ask your members and regular attendees their thoughts and ideas. It doesn’t mean that we eliminate Pastoral authority or even that we automatically make everything democratic, but it does make ministry appealing and inviting.
2. Ask them the right questions!
If we are going to take the time to ask the questions, we should ask the right questions. A great question to ask would be “Do you have a job?” rather than “Why is your giving so low?”
3. Create spaces for them to share!
It is amazing what happens when you create a place and space that is non-judgmental or fear-based how much people will open up and engage in the life of your ministry. After all, you want them engaged and taking ownership for the entire operation. They are a part of the family, right. This space should involve the greatest of facilitation techniques, meeting management, and think-tank strategies. When held and conducted wisely, the results will be breath-taking!
4. Listen to them!
Nobody wants token involvement. That is, when ‘mock’ events are set-up for people to share ideas (not complaints!) and then no follow-through or change is implemented. I believe people know that it isn’t realistic to accept and implement every idea implemented, but they also assume that some growth, evolving, and innovativeness will be the acceptable response to member engagement.
5. Study them & their responses!
Some have taken the time to host idea sharing sessions, only to discover they did not have the right mechanisms in place to accurately record the notes and thoughts shared in an excellent way. Before the idea sharing experiences happen, also ask what technology you can utilize to truly document what takes place in the meeting.
6. Keep great records!
As you create a system to engage people in idea-sharing, you want to be able to regularly review and reflect on those ideas (An Idea Database), ask questions around those ideas, and have a timeline of how ideas have been either presented, tabled, or eliminated. Additionally, as staff transitions, leaders come and go, and culture adjusts, these records will help future leadership to not have to always start at ground zero.