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

February 22, 2010

There was a lot of response to the previous post (HERE) about a people-oriented view of ministry vs. a program-oriented view of ministry, so here are some more thoughts.  Identifying and cultivating this mind-shift in The Bridge has been a long and still ongoing process influenced by many books, churches, and conversations with elders who see a need for change in the predominant church structure in the Bible Belt – especially John Howard.

For a definition of the terminology, see the previous post here.

Pros & Cons of a program-oriented view of ministry


  • Churches can grow quickly by launching more and more programs, which attract more and more people.
  • More Biblical information is usually transmitted .
  • Leadership has more control over what happens, which protects the church from bad doctrine being seeded.
  • It’s easier.  Fostering a culture of interpersonal ministry is much harder work than just starting new programs.  Think, the difference between the long, ongoing, tedious work of cultivating fertile soil vs. the work of building a machine.
  • People love it, expect it, and don’t complain if you have it… especially in the Bible Belt.
  • It’s cleaner.  Programs are like machines – they’re organized and not messy. People are messy and have deep problems to be dealt with.


  • It tends to foster consumerism in church members.  People end up thinking the job of the church is to launch programs that “meet my needs” since the church has communicated that it is a spiritual shopping mall by its program structure.  If the store I need isn’t there, the mall isn’t doing its job.
  • It prolongs spiritual infancy – the stage in which you’re a baby that has to have someone feed you in order to be spiritually healthy. The phrase “I’m just not being fed” is common in these churches even among people who’ve been in the church for decades because the ministry structure is a plethora of programs that feed. The culture doesn’t teach a person to feed themselves or the mark of true Christian maturity – ability to feed others.
  • Personal discipleship is a lost art.
  • It tends to keep personal sin problems off the radar.  You don’t confess a porn-addiction in Sunday night discipleship class. You can when you’re meeting regularly for coffee with guys from your small group.
  • While it is good at attracting people, it also tends to lose them after a few years.
  • People get overused and burned out easily. As more programs are launched, more volunteer staff are required and more nights of the week are taken up.
  • Here’s the biggest con: People are often used to accomplish ministry instead of ministry being used to “accomplish” people.

Admittedly, this post is reductionistic. Not all churches with program-oriented views of ministry bear these marks. In fact, not all churches that have lots of programs have a program-oriented view of ministry in their culture.  But in my experience these things are generally true and this is why our elders are so excited about what we’re seeing taking shape in The Bridge right now.

Next post: “Evaluation of a people-oriented view of ministry” coming soon.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2010 10:30 pm

    I think the lack of personal discipleship and vulnerability in regard to the “personal sin” problem are some of the biggest problems that plague the church, and believers in general. I know in my life I have all to often tried to look the part; but people feel so much more comfortable and willing to confess their own issues when they know that they are not the only ones dealing with something. Will be praying for this type of growth in your church.

  2. Lance permalink
    February 23, 2010 9:13 am

    Careful. That would be my response to today’s blog post. I have heard the debates on program oriented church vrs non program oriented church and I attend The Bridge so you know what I like and believe in. However, program based churches say non program churches don’t offer discipleship, they don’t offer training for boys and girls… Program churches teach classes on witnessing, they train you to share your faith, they offer classes for hurting people and spiritual development. Many program churches also have small groups so they do have places you can share your personal struggles, not that the only place in any church to share is small groups. Many of these churches offer recovery groups for alcohol, drug and or porn addition. Some offer divorce recovery groups… I am NOT suggesting The Bridge become a program church. Just suggesting everything about the program church is not bad in the same way everything about the non programed church is good. One of the phrases I try to live by is “be a student not a critic”, thank you Andy Stanly, and I believe we can learn from each other.

    • josh permalink
      February 23, 2010 10:59 am

      Definitely. There are positives to them both and negatives to them both. Some of the things you mentioned will be in the next post, evaluating a people-oriented view of ministry.

      • April 27, 2012 3:11 pm

        I think we are missing the point. What is more biblical, program or people? Even if there is a problem with people-oriented ministry just shows that we are human. What would Jesus do today, program or people?? I think this is a no-brainier. We need spiritual upgrade into present truth in our church leadership

  3. February 23, 2010 1:14 pm

    I think you can flip one of the pros into a con, in that leadership having more control over what happens can also make it harder to weed out bad doctrine or teachings. If the addiction-recovery class, for instance, is not teaching that sins of substance or sexual abuse aren’t dealt with by confession and repentance of sin but by working hard at doing better, that’s something that must be corrected. That’s replacing the gospel with law. But if lots of people are showing up to the program each week and lives appear to be changing, will the leaders listen if someone brings a concern about the curriculum’s flaws?

    Yeah, this is a specific example that was easy for me to come up with because I experienced it first-hand. There are exceptions. But the more curriculum-based programs you implement the more work must be done to monitor what is being taught.

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