By Todd Adkins
One minute we think we know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, then the next, we’re scrambling and trying to address the complexities that arise in our churches and ministries. This past year of ministry has been full of uncertainty and tough decision after tough decision.
A Lifeway Research survey on pastors’ biggest concerns found that many desire support, discernment, and wisdom to make the right decisions for their congregation. Struggles include how to plan, which ministries to continue and which ministries to cut, and how to communicate their decisions.
In today’s world, we must be agile leaders, able to lead rapid change. Maybe your church has reopened. Or maybe not. Whatever your current circumstance, here are eight considerations to help you propel your church forward as you look toward summer and prepare for fall.
1. Break Path Dependence
That’s the way we’ve always done it.
How many times have you heard that phrase? If you’ve served in ministry for any length of time, you’re likely familiar with that response. Sometimes, we get locked into doing things a certain way without even thinking about why.Sometimes, we get locked into doing things a certain way without even thinking about why. — @toddadkins Click To Tweet
However, we must challenge our biases, assumptions, policies, procedures, and habitual solutions. Make a list of these things. Your findings may surprise you. After making a list, bring in trusted advisors to add their perspective. Then audit the performance and metrics your church uses to determine if you’re measuring the right things.
Identifying these things will help you to see your biggest limitations in this season and help you start to work toward breaking path dependence.
2. Reallocate Resources
Your church will likely need to reallocate resources as you evaluate your ministries. The more resources are spread out, the greater difficulty you have in communicating to your congregation what’s most important at this time. You must assess if a ministry is essential and whether it’s still effective.
If a ministry isn’t essential and effective, stop doing it. This is an opportunity to eliminate sacred cows that might be in your church.Right now, you must assess if the ministries in your church are essential and whether they're still effective. If a ministry isn’t essential and effective, stop doing it. Click To Tweet
If a ministry is effective but not essential, shift resources to something that is more strategic. In almost every church, there’s a ministry that began in alignment with the church’s mission but experienced mission drift along the way.
If a ministry is essential but not effective, strategize around it. Realign resources to stabilize it.
If a ministry is essential and effective, scale it. Dedicate resources to continually elevate it so there’s clarity on what’s important.
This assessment isn’t a one-time thing. What works well in one season may not work well in the next, so you should continually assess your allocation of resources and realign them to best meet the needs of your church.
3. Move from “We Can’t” to “We Can”
As church leaders, we must keep our teams optimistic, flexible, and focused on what essential ministry has to happen with a “make it work” approach. Often in ministry, we start with a “we can’t because …” mentality. But, by flipping the script, a “we can if …” approach helps you reframe your thinking and find new solutions you didn’t see before.
If you start each sentence with “We can if …” you focus on how overcoming an obstacle might be possible, not whether or not it’s possible. Framing it in this way forces people to find solutions and move forward, rather than to find more problems.
4. Audit Ministry Volunteers
When it comes to the number of volunteers we need, there is a fair amount of uncertainty moving forward. As new guidelines and new normals are established in our churches, the ideal number of volunteers we previously needed and the roles in which we needed them has likely changed.
However, there are ways to pivot and adapt to these changing dynamics. You must audit every ministry area and all volunteer roles. This is not an easy task, but it will save you a great deal of time and frustration down the road.
First, list each ministry area then identify all volunteer roles within that ministry. For each role, note the current number of volunteers serving in that role. Determine if the role should remain as is, should pause, or should be adapted.
Next, name names. For each ministry area and role, list the current volunteers who serve, how often they serve, and their assigned service or shift. Also note if a volunteer (or one of their family members) is part of a vulnerable population and if it’s okay for them to serve in this role according to new guidelines.
Now, with lists of roles and names, you can roll up each ministry to see what areas are at risk, what areas have the most volunteer positions that are paused, and which volunteers could be redeployed to areas of need. You also see which volunteers may be at risk and help them find a safer role elsewhere.
5. Create (or Revise) Role Profiles for Volunteers
Creating volunteer profiles or job descriptions helps you establish clear expectations for all roles in your church or ministry. If your church already uses role profiles, now is the time to evaluate and make sure they reflect new guidelines in place for each role.
Each profile should include weekly ministry responsibilities and core competencies required to serve. When you have a standardized template for role profiles, it provides clarity to your volunteers, many of whom likely serve in multiple roles and ministries.Handing someone a profile before they step into a role allows them to know the expectations before they commit. — @toddadkins Click To Tweet
Handing someone a profile before they step into a role allows them to know the expectations before they commit, which is especially important in a season when you may need to quickly onboard new volunteers and leads to another important point in step 6.
6. Simplify Ministry Processes
We know our job as church leaders is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, according to Ephesians 4. But the reality is that you can’t give away ministry unless you have clarified and simplified ministry processes to hand it off. There are often three personalities that arise when it comes to giving away ministry responsibilities.
An iron chef thinks they are the only person who can complete ministry tasks to their standard. These leaders sacrifice equipping the saints for ministry on the altar of personal excellence.
Next is Grandma. Now Grandma knows how to make the cake, and we all love it. But the problem is she never takes the time to write down the recipe. She just does it herself time and time again because it’s so routine for her.
What most ministry processes need is a cake-in-a-box approach. It says, “Add two eggs, a cup of water, and a cup of oil to this mix, stir well, pour in a greased pan, and bake for 35 minutes.”When you simplify a ministry process by creating a checklist, you improve your ability to equip and develop volunteers, especially in a season of rapid change. Click To Tweet
When you simplify a ministry process by creating a checklist, you improve your ability to equip and develop volunteers, especially in a season of rapid change. This process is scalable and repeatable, and these checklists also make it easier to create the weekly responsibilities for your role profiles in step 5.
7. Quickly Onboard and Develop Volunteers
How do you quickly recruit and develop volunteers in this season? Our team proposes a four-step development process: intentional, guided, collaborative and equipped ministry. 
Normally, these phases take weeks or months to complete. In this season, it would be easy to simply place people in roles and settle for warm bodies to fill the gaps. However, Paul’s charge in Ephesians 4 is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. There’s no asterisk in Scripture that we can skip this approach during trials and hardships.Paul’s charge in Ephesians 4 is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. There’s no asterisk in Scripture that we can skip this approach during trials and hardships. — @toddadkins Click To Tweet
During the intentional phase, provide the role profile you created in step 5 and online ministry training through a tool like Ministry Grid. Then ask a seasoned leader to meet with a new volunteer over a phone call or Zoom. While the role profile and video training cover ministry responsibilities, the conversation allows for questions and insight from the seasoned volunteer’s experience.
I’d normally advocate that the next three phases occur over 6-8 weeks, but right now, we don’t have time for that.
In the guided phase, pair the new volunteer with a seasoned volunteer for a week. After the new volunteer observes, allow them to discuss the experience and prepare for the next phase of co-serving.
In the collaborative phase, the new volunteer jumps in and serves alongside the seasoned volunteer. They discuss the experience to troubleshoot and answer questions.
In the equipped phase, the new volunteer takes over and the season leader observes. The seasoned volunteer moves on to train others but is available for conversations as challenges arise.
I cannot overemphasize that there will be different timelines for different ministry roles depending on responsibilities. But this model can help you to expedite the process when you quickly need new volunteers.
8. Continually Align Ministries
God’s hope for the world is the local church. The local church is His Plan A, and there is no Plan B. As we face uncertainty, sometimes we must quickly move forward in making a decision. This is why you must continually evaluate your ministries and make adjustments as needed.The quicker you are at making solid decisions that align with the directions that you’ve set, the better leader you will be in the seasons to come. — @toddadkins Click To Tweet
John Boyd was a World War II military strategist who said that during dogfights between fighter pilots, each pilot went through four decision phases. Whoever did them quicker was the one that won out. These phases are helpful to move forward with clarity and purpose.
First, observe your present reality. What is going on? What is the situation?
Next, develop a present theory. What do you need to orient to or adapt to what is going on? How do you need to change in light of your current reality?
Then decide. What do you have identified as an opportunity for change? What will help you move forward?
Finally act. How can you see it through to completion?
Again, this assessment is one that is never truly done because one decision leads to another, especially in a time of rapid change. The quicker you are at making solid decisions that align with the directions that you’ve set, the better leader you will be in the seasons to come.
For in-depth templates, exercises, and resources to walk through these eight steps as a church staff or ministry team, check out this free course on Ministry Grid: 8 Steps to Prepare Your Ministry for 2021.
- Adapted from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, Better Learning Through Structured Teaching (Alexandria, Va: Ascd, 2014), 3.
- Chet Richards, Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2004).