5 Indicators that Your Church is Over-Programmed

Several years ago I(Jeremy) was speaking at a church of around 250 meeting in a sanctuary that held around 500. The church had plateaued in previous years and was searching for their identity. Before the service I was walking in the lobby area and there was an old school bulletin board with what seemed like 200 programs on the wall. To me it seemed like they literally had a program for nearly every person that attended the church. I asked the pastor if he really had that many programs and he said “no, but if people have that need, we will fill it.” It was certainly a noble gesture but it was backwards and a miserable attempt to be all things to all people. It was a vision that lacked clarity and a ship without a clear direction. The church had not established a set of values as a filter for programming decisions.  

Still to this day, there is an addiction in the church and it’s not what you think. We have an addiction to starting new things without a proper understanding of exactly why and how it fits into the vision of the church. We are becoming deluged with a exorbitant amount of programs that were once great for a season but serve no purpose today and are failing. We have fooled ourselves into thinking more is better. More isn’t always better especially if it isn’t done well. You could fill up a website with ministries but if they aren’t reaching anyone or impacting lives then what’s the point? Don’t be ok with programs that have phased into mediocrity or even obscurity.. Find the need in your community and be the church that meets that need. Every church and every leader has to get an understanding of the culture and people you live and work with to know how to best reach people. If you try to be all things to all people, you end up pleasing no one.  

We can brag about our giant list of things that we do without giving the purpose for why we do things. The sad thing is that we sometimes we don’t realize what we are doing because it’s all that we knew growing up. We just thought you needed a young adult Sunday school class and didn’t realize that young adults don’t want to get up early for Sunday school. We believed that we needed scrapbooking class for senior adults because it’s always been that way. Unfortunately the phrase that kills many churches today, “WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THAT WAY.” If you want to keep failing continue to do the same things because it’s always been that way. It’s not logical and it seems insane to some. Evaluate the programs that we have in our church and decide which ones that still fit the vision of the church and which ones should be put to rest. When was the last time you stopped doing something that you know was dead? If the answer is never, it may be time to rethink it. It ain’t rocket surgery. Don’t try to do it all. Find your thing and be good at it. 

Maybe you don’t know if you are one of these churches are not. Here are 5 Indicators that your church has way too many programs.  

1. You Have an Exhaustive List of Programs

If you are constantly updating your master list of programs and you have hired someone to keep up with this list, you might be over-programmed. If it’s really that hard to keep with, then it’s time to trim the list and evaluate which ones need to stay and which one needs to go. At times it can be like the tv show hoarders. You get sentimentally attached to a program and you can’t get rid of it. So you tuck it away in the church basement just to keep yourself or someone else happy. This never works. What once was really helpful and had purpose, now doesn’t have a demand. 

2. You Struggle to Find a Leader for Programs

We hear this all the time, the struggle to find leaders is real. Instead of pulling teeth to find a leader for a non-essential ministry, ask yourself the hard question. Why are we still doing this? If you can’t find a leader for that struggling ministry, then is it possible that no one is interested in this ministry. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Remember if it’s striking a chord with your church, there will be a line of people ready to lead that vibrant ministry. 

3. You Have Multiple People Leading Multiple Programs

While it’s great to have people who are diverse in their skill set and have the capacity for two ministries, it’s not always a good idea. Many times eager leaders are willing to put more on their plate for the sake of the Kingdom or for the sake of the church. There are also those who will do anything the pastor asks of them. The problem with that is that that eager individual will be burned out in a year because they didn’t do the thing that drives their passion. Instead they filled the role because no one else would. You have to love the heart of someone that is willing to take on more, however you must ask yourself is that the most beneficial position to put that volunteer into? Many times the answer is no, because it doesn’t fix the bigger problem of why no one else will volunteer for that role. In the short term, it seems like a genius idea, but you need to preserve that rock star volunteer for the long haul and utilize that person where they are most passionate. 

4. If Your Team Doesn’t Know A Program Exists

I have actually been in staff meetings of larger churches and experienced this myself. A fellow staff member talked about an internal ministry that I didn’t know we had at the church. Even though it was a valid ministry and seemed to be a good idea, it hadn’t gotten any traction since it’s inception. When this happens, maybe it’s time to stop holding onto our nostalgic ministries that no one knows about. If a tree falls in the forest….You get my point. 

5. If you Allow Anyone with A Burden to Start a Program

This is a difficult one. I will admit that I have been in this situation many times. The heart of the person is golden, however it doesn't always fit through the filter of the vision of the church. That doesn’t mean that we won’t pray for this ministry and be your cheerleader, it just simply means that it doesn’t have to be a church program. Just because it doesn’t fit the church and doesn’t have a church label doesn’t mean it doesn’t meet the needs of someone and it doesn’t mean that it’s not a worthwhile or valid ministry opportunity. Instead of rejection, come from the position of releasing that person to start a ministry or even a non-profit. Many times people are waiting on our permission. If someone is upset that the church won’t adopt their idea, then their motive for the idea is wrong. A person that has a sincere passion, will not be concerned about it’s labeled. Send them in the right direction to fulfill their vision and it becomes a win for them and for the church.

Jeremy Johnson