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program-oriented ministry vs. people-oriented ministry

February 16, 2010

Not to stereotype, but here’s your average Spring Hill-ian’s relationship with the church:

  • Grew up in the Bible-belt where church was a cultural aspect of a good, healthy lifestyle
  • Has been involved in a large, seeker-sensitive mega church
  • In this experience the church wanted to attract people by offering the widest array of programs possible, much like a shopping mall attracts shoppers by offering the widest possible array of stores
  • Left that experience a few years ago because what they saw was amusing for a while but ultimately lacked depth and was not life-altering.
  • If they’re coming back to church it’s because they want to “raise their kids right”.
  • Has been taught that the measure of a successful church is how fast it’s growing and/or how big it is

These people know that Christians are supposed to be involved in ministry.  To people with this past, being involved in ministry means either launching or supporting a program with the church and it only “counts” if it’s in the church bulletin, funded by the church budget, and at the church building.  Here’s the mind-shift from the New Testament that we’re trying to foster at The Bridge…

A mind-shift from a program-oriented view of ministry to a people-oriented view of ministry.

This difference is subtle but vital.  In a program-oriented view of ministry I ask the church leadership if I can start a new official Bible study, help with the children’s choir or RA Group, or help plan the next big event.  With a program-oriented view of ministry my energies are focused on a program.  With a people-oriented view of ministry, my energies are focused on a person. I may…

  • Ask the staff for names of some people who’ve visited the church recently and invite them to my house for dinner and cards sometime
  • Ask a couple guys in my small group to start meeting at Starbucks before work to process Scripture we’re reading together
  • Ask some women in the church if they want to read a book together for discipleship and discuss it
  • Start reading the Bible with a new or young Christian and meet regularly to process it
  • Set aside Thursday nights to have non-Christian neighborhood families over for dinner
  • Serve in the Kids’ Ministry or Student Ministry on Sundays for the purpose of identifying ways to invest in kids’ families or students outside of those times in small ways

How this is different:

  • It’s chaotic – As the pastor I have no idea about all the ministry that happens at The Bridge.
  • Leadership has less control.
  • It empowers every Christian in line with the New Testament principle of the priesthood of every believer.
  • The programs a church has with a people-oriented view of ministry are only the ones which are essential to best facilitate people-ministry.  For The Bridge this is Kids’ Ministry, Student Ministry, and Angel Food (food-distribution to the needy).  That’s it.
  • It is limitless.  In a program-oriented church the amount of ministry that can happen is limited to the amount of program-leadership the paid staff can facilitate.  With a people-oriented view of ministry the amount of ministry that can happen is limited only by number of people.  The kingdom is unleashed.
  • Small Groups are a hub (in which everyone ministers and is ministered to) that ministry flows out of instead of a to-do list item to “attend” and simply receive from.
22 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott Slater permalink
    February 16, 2010 9:34 pm

    Just saying, but I just read a “mind-shifting” book about this very thing, The Trellis and The Vine. I have a feeling that you’ve read it and this post is a result of it, but just in case you haven’t, check it out.

  2. February 16, 2010 10:06 pm

    very interesting… I have to say that a lot of those beginning points are me (whether I want to admit it or not!). I think you have laid it out very well and hopefully it will encourage Bridge members and help non-members understand what we are about. And I do see that the bridge is become the latter church – people not program oriented. I am excited to be part of a church that is like that, but I must adjust my personal views and desires to strive for the same.

  3. February 16, 2010 11:39 pm

    Wonderful post! This is what so many churches lack, and what so many people crave~often without even knowing it!

  4. josh permalink
    February 16, 2010 11:57 pm

    Jordan and Sarah – Thanks!

    Scott – I’m reading it now and it’s unbelievable. Our “mind-shift” has been been there for a long time, but the book is solidifying some things we’ve been thinking about for awhile.

  5. Susan Howerton permalink
    February 17, 2010 12:33 am

    Wow, Josh,you’ve nailed it. That is exactly where we need to be in our personal ministry and what Christ expects of us… His church. It is very convicting and challenging and so contrary to what most of us have been used to before coming to The Bridge. And I agree with Sarah that it is actually what most of us crave to be part of even when we don’t realize it. It’s real. It’s a little scary- because it means it’s up to us to depend on God’s guidance, and empowerment to go where He leads and take the gospel. But most of all it’s life-altering and life-fulfilling in that we, His children, are finally stepping out and doing what He called each of US to do, not our church ministry teams or committees. It’s messy… It’s radical… and it’s so right. Thank you for this incredible, convicting post. It definitely goes at the top of my favorite posts list!

  6. David Williams permalink
    February 17, 2010 10:19 am

    Man, thank you so much for your thoughts! This is something God is really convicting us at the BCM about, and I’m so glad to see someone process the idea and put some terminology to it. You do not see many budgets or bulletins in Acts, but you do see the church, so “revolutionary”!

  7. John Howard permalink
    February 17, 2010 10:43 am


    • josh permalink
      February 17, 2010 11:36 am

      It should be. Some conversations with you (that I’m looking forward to continuing) have shaped a LOT of this in my head!

  8. Jana Howerton permalink
    February 17, 2010 10:48 am

    Great post Josh! I love being a Bridge member. As I was reading this post, I had a thought: whether we realize it or not, so much of the time being program driven is so much about ‘me’ and what I can do. It brings on thoughts like “wow, we’re doing well because look at how many programs we have; I must be doing something right.” Where as being people oriented you focus on the person and how you can serve them and be used by God. Just a thought…

  9. Trent permalink
    February 17, 2010 11:30 am

    I couldn’t agree more with this statement, Josh. I think that something important is that this isn’t only an effective method of getting people to church, it also helps to make for a much more mature Christian. It means a lot more to someone to invest in their lives than to simply invite them to a new ministry. It’s a lot more important to do life together than to just do the church thing every Sunday and maybe Wednesday.

  10. February 17, 2010 11:53 am

    Can you please explain what you mean by only having programs that facilitate people ministry? More specifically, can you explain how student ministry facilitates? Kids’ Ministry?

    • josh permalink
      February 17, 2010 1:20 pm

      Brett – that’s the million-dollar question that if you see the clean answer for, I’ll pay you greatly. Our staff and elders are having long conversations right now about clarity in our vision and how this works itself out. In other words, we’re in the process of figuring out what it means to orient Student and Kids’ Ministry around this concept.

      Two things:

      1) I purposefully didn’t say “only having programs that facilitate people ministry”, but rather said, “only the ones which are essential to best facilitate people ministry.” ALL programs facilitate people ministry in some way. We only have the ones that we think are “essential” to “best” facilitate people ministry given our circumstances. This is an art, not a science and I think probably changes in virtually every situation/culture.

      2) One thing that’s for sure an application in Student and Kids’ Ministry – they’re equipping ministries. The Kids’ Ministry equips parents to minister to their children, the Student Ministry aims to do the same as well as connect Students with older Christians who invest in them on a personal level and begins to teach the students how to invest in other Christians.

      Again, we’re working through this in ardent conversations as we figure out how to re-orient everything. Would love to hear your input…

  11. Pam permalink
    February 17, 2010 12:39 pm

    Josh ,you hit the nail on the head! I think the ministry of the church is to love others, to reach out to them and to let them know we truly care for them. Letting the Holy Spirit guide us to the works that he has for us. Not to depend on a program to accomplish the work. Relying on the program takes a lot of responsibility off of us to be involved.

  12. Pam permalink
    February 17, 2010 12:45 pm

    What is our aim? To enlarge the assembly or to share the love of Christ?

  13. homebyfaith permalink
    February 17, 2010 1:24 pm

    Absolutely agree. This article should be a required read every few weeks as a reminder! 🙂

  14. Kathy permalink
    February 17, 2010 4:26 pm

    I love this post and this is why…before coming to The Bridge whenever my family and I would visit churches I would come home and actually make a graph of everything they offered versus what the other churches offered that we already visited!!! So the “graph” told me that we should be at the big church down the road that offers everything for everyone. So we attended for several months and all of a sudden as I was sitting there listening to the message I felt the greatest sensation of “you do not belong here” and I was all of sudden freed from thinking bigger is better. We came to The Bridge shortly thereafter (after marking The Bridge off of my list originally because the “graph” didn’t list any programs for this church!!) and as soon as we stepped in and listened to Rick’s message…we were home!!

    Now I just wish all of my church seeking friends felt the same way. The first thing they ask is “what do they have for kids?” There’s no way to explain what we offer kids which goes beyond any program.

    Thanks for being that kind of church! (By the way, I threw my graphs away…they didn’t work!)

  15. Scott Shoopman permalink
    February 17, 2010 5:26 pm

    When we first started the idea of the “simple church” I thought how much easier the “management” of the ministries would be in this environment. Then I moved on to feeling that it just seemed “right” and what we were doing allowed families to come back together instead of always being segregated into various age-graded events and programs. Bringing the family back together is not always easy, usually noisy, and always messy. BUT I believe it is right.

    The more difficult thing for us (me and my generation) to understand is that being missional is a way of life, not an event. To “DO” mission events is good and can accomplish much, but we must take that and live it daily. That is hard for me to do.

    I believe in it, I promote it, and I am trying hard to live it….

    Theological, Relational, and Missional – that is the beauty of organic people-oriented ministry.

    • shelley permalink
      February 23, 2010 11:13 am

      Good point, Scott. Bringing families back together is a natural by-product of being people-oriented.

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  1. people vs program-oriented views of ministry (pt 2) «

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