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When to end a ministry or program

By Wes Olds

Managing local church ministry programs is a lot like flying an airplane. There is the thrilling season of takeoff and soaring to new heights. Eventually, however, a ministry or program must descend and head for the runway. Sometimes ministries can refuel and launch again. Other times, a new direction is best. Either way, it's a difficult decision and requires careful and prayerful analysis and evaluation.

Discerning when to end a ministry involves seeking clarity of the church's calling, understanding the community, reviewing measurements and deciding what new ministries might be made possible by ending unproductive ones.

During the evaluation process, ask the following questions:

1. Has the ministry lost effectiveness?
2. Have the results wandered from the original purpose?
3. Does it drain time and resources from successful ministries?
4. Will ending it make other programs more effective?
5. Is the purpose of the ministry accomplished elsewhere?
6. Do you keep it going because it's a beloved church tradition?
7. Are you afraid of hurting anyone's feelings or causing conflict?
8. Can you show members the benefits of terminating?
9. Are key influencers on board?
10. Do senior leadership members agree?

If you answer "yes" to most of these questions, then it is likely the ministry of interest should enter the eternal Sabbath of rest.

Once the decision is made to conclude a ministry, the next step is actually implementing the decision. Like landing a plane, the approach is everything! Discernment and wisdom prove the often-thin margin between a smooth landing, a thud or a crash! All three experiences will get the plane on the ground, but with varying degrees of trauma and drama.

The following tips can help achieve the desired smooth landing.

1. Remember, relationships matter. What counts most is not the program but the people. How we handle transitions will either build or tear down trust. Trust is earned over time, but can be lost in an instant. As a leader, be spiritually prepared to lead through change. Anxiety, fear and anger are all contagious. People often mirror what you model.

2. Don't have a surprise ending. Senior leaders and leaders of the ministry in question should meet in person. Time is needed for decision makers to explain the evaluation process and how the conclusion to end the ministry was reached. If you are guiding this process, be factual but compassionate. People who may disagree with the decision need an opportunity to voice their opinion. Invite honest, face-to-face dialogue so disagreements do not emerge later as gossip.

3. Develop a timeline and strategy for closing the ministry. This can often be negotiated with both the leaders of the church and of the ministry to increase communication and maintain healthy relationships. If possible, include ways to celebrate the ministry and honor those who have led or participated.

4. Write a script to use for consistent, clear communication in the congregation and community. The script informs people of the decision, acknowledges the ministry's value and gratitude for those who have served, celebrates the way God has used the ministry, offers hope for the future and points people to the mission. Here is a sample: After a season of conversation, evaluation, discernment and prayer, the Wednesday night fellowship dinners will end the last week of October. We are so grateful for the leadership the Fellowship Dinner Team has provided during the last five years and all those who have participated. God has used these weekly opportunities to help countless persons find encouragement and a connection to the family of God. We are exploring new ways to build on this legacy and continue to be faithful in making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world!

5. Plan a communication strategy. Consider the best ways to inform people of the programming or ministry change. The higher the profile of the ministry, the more communication that must happen. Identify and inform key stakeholders and leaders before informing the congregation as a whole.

Ending a ministry can be challenging, and the right approach can make all the difference! As you think about new programs, be sure to ask the right questions before making ministry investments. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.