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Pruning your programs to grow

By Eric Seiberling

SUMMARY: Maybe there’s a lesson or two to be learned from one of television’s most popular reality shows, “Hoarders.” Think about discarding a few of the things that aren’t working anymore. Not only will you create space to try new things, but you’ll also give God more room to work.

The A&E show “Hoarders” examines the lives of people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are in crisis. The show uses a therapist, an organizer and an army of people and dumpsters to address the thought patterns that caused the problems. Some recover. Others do not.

Some of us may know folks who tend to stockpile possessions or hold on to them far past their prime. Churches aren’t immune from the “compulsion to cling” either. Too often, our churches accumulate a mass of unused, unneeded and outdated “treasures” in storage spaces.

Walk around your own church. Look in the closets. You’re likely to see old hymnals or devotionals on the shelves, mounds of craft supplies from 20 years ago and "valuable" 50-year-old AV equipment that could possibly be discarded.

The physical hoarding can be easily conquered in a few church cleanup days, but there is something much more problematic to a church and that is “program hoarding.”

Think about the events your church holds every year. Maybe it is the annual rummage sale. Maybe it is the “cookie walk” at Christmas time. We hold these every year, but fewer and fewer people show up. People don’t want to volunteer. Despite this, no one would dare cancel it.

What was once a community outreach event has turned into an internal tradition that we hold on to because of the memories attached to it. We strongly desire for things to stay the same because it gives us a sense of home, belonging or security. Could it be we’re hoarding our programs long after they’ve outlived their usefulness?

Maybe it's time to prune our programs.
The concept of pruning is clear in John 15:1-17. God calls us to prune that which does not bear fruit. We need to understand the effectiveness of our programs both in hard numbers and spiritual impact and then be willing to prune thoughtfully so we can focus our resources on what matters most to God.

Here are a few steps to get started:

  1. Get clear on your church’s unique calling. Every church has a unique mission to serve its community. We must focus on spiritual disciplines to connect with our Creator and understand why God created us. What is our unique role in bringing Christ to our world?
  2. Clearly understand your community. Every community is different. We must understand people outside the four walls of our church instead of focusing just on the people within them. Based on our calling, whom are we to serve? Do we really know them, what they need and how we can connect them to a loving God? United Methodist Communications provides demographic information to assist you in this research.
  3. Measure everything you currently do. We must assess the fruit of our programs. Is it producing a tangible result we can measure? How much does it cost in terms of effort and money to produce? Is it in line with our calling? How does it compare to other opportunities?
  4. Cut the bottom 20 percent. We must purge efforts that don’t bear fruit. We must measure effectively and cut the bottom 20 percent. If it is has been a long-standing tradition, have a funeral to celebrate its closure. Celebrate its life and allow people to mourn.
  5. Pilot new things to fill the void. Vacuums must be filled. Cutting the bottom 20 percent will create a space that people naturally will want to fill. Knowledge of our calling and community can help us to try new things and measurement that can keep us on track.

We need to understand the intent of everything we do, measure it and keep discarding what doesn’t work to improve our ability to live into our call. We see many shiny objects or ideas that work in other places. Avoid the need to “hoard” and allow God to guide you to serve your community.

Are you willing to discard what is beyond its prime for the sake of the lost in your community?