How to End Ministries without Ending Yours

If your church is going to be healthy, you’re going to have to do a few, fundament things well.

Declining churches have accumulated unnecessary and ineffective programs, events, and ministries. Over the decades, your church has said, “Yes,” to lots of things and rarely said, “No.” As a result, your church is doing too many things at a mediocre level, and the results are self-evident.

In Episode 13, we discussed how to determine if a ministry is effective. If you’ve not listened to that yet, start there.

But once you’ve determined which ministries are under-performing, it’s time to decide if you need to end it altogether.

Before I walk you through how to end a ministry, let’s briefly recap how to know when we should end a ministry.

Ask the following questions about a ministry to determine if it should end:

1. Does the ministry, event, or program fit within a Discipleship Pathway step?
(If it doesn’t fit within any step, it needs to end. No need to ask any other questions. If it does fit within a step, identify the step and continue to Question 2.) 

2. Is it a primary ministry (something we expect everyone to attend)?
(If the answer is “no,” continue to Question 3).

3. Is it fruitful in achieving the designed discipleship outcomes for its designated step?
(If the answer is “no,” it needs to end. If it only partially is fruitful, it might need to end—continue to Question 4).

4. Can it easily be combined with a primary ministry (Example: women’s Bible study becomes one of many Life Group choices, rather than a separate ministry)?
(If yes, do that. If no, continue to Question 5).

5. Can it be used to support or funnel people into a primary ministry (Example: using Financial Peace University as a bridge into a permanent Small Group)?
(If yes, do that. If not, it’s time to end the ministry).

Hopefully, this series of five questions will empower you to identify ministries that need to end. Honestly, churches need to be willing to put more things in this “end it” category! When it comes to ministries, less is almost always more.

Pastors are worried about the relational damage it might cause if they start cutting beloved programs. Our goal is to end ministries gracefully, producing a minimal amount of conflict while maximizing the Great Commission potential of your church.

Bottom line: you should be able to end a ministry without it ending your ministry.

Ending ministries well is a straightforward process.

Church ministries need three things to survive: time, resources, and attention. To end ministries, all you need to do is starve them of all three.

Let me walk you through how to do that.

Starving a Ministry of Time

If you want a ministry to end, you need to stop putting it on the “official” calendar. If it’s helpful to think of it this way, treat it on your calendar the same way you would if an outside community group wanted to use your facility. 

For example, if the local Boy Scout Troop wanted to use Room 104 every Monday night, you probably wouldn’t put that on any official calendar. You’d let them use the space, but you wouldn’t consider that a “ministry” of your church. You would see it as an excellent opportunity for your church to empower a “good” thing (scouting) that isn’t directly aligned with the church’s mission (making and maturing disciples). 

When it comes to ministries, you want to end, allow the group to continue to meet at the same time and location, unless it directly interferes with a primary ministry. 

For example, if you decide it’s time to end the Women’s Knitting Group as a specific “ministry” of the church, allow them to continue to meet every other Thursday in Room 104 as they always have. Just don’t put it on the calendar anymore. Like the Boy Scouts, knitting blankets for the homeless is a “good thing” that simply doesn’t align with your mission of making and maturing disciples.

Here is a crucial point: most ministries that you choose to “end” don’t need to stop meeting. Instead, they need to continue their meetings outside the purview of the church.

Starving a Ministry of Resources

The natural next step for ending a ministry (since it’s no longer on the “official” calendar) is to eliminate any budget monies they might currently receive. No matter how small the dollar amount is, you have to stop providing funds to ministries you want to end. 

Ending funding seems straightforward, but there are a few nuances to keep in mind. First, starving a ministry of resources means that the ministry cannot ask for non-monetary donations either. For example, the Women’s Knitting Group cannot ask the church at large to donate knitting supplies. They are on their own for all the resources they need.

Second, they cannot request people resources, either. The ministry won’t have any direct staff oversight, and they cannot actively recruit volunteers. People are resources, too—and when you’re ending a ministry, you need to make sure that you are not sending new people to a ministry you are hoping will eventually end.

Finally, be sure you give a full budget year’s notice when cutting a ministry’s budget. If your budget approval process happens in November, notify the ministry leader in October that the upcoming budget year will be their final year of funding. You must give the ministry plenty of time to adjust and plan accordingly. No one likes a surprise, and it would be ungracious to pull funding without lots of notice.

Starving a Ministry of Attention

The final step for ending a ministry is to stop giving the ministry any attention. Now that the ministry is off the calendar and we’re committed to limiting the ministry’s access to financial and human resources, the natural consequence is that we will stop communicating about the ministry externally. 

All communication must be managed within the ministry itself, internally.

Let me be specific. The ministry cannot put an announcement in the bulletin. You will not post about the ministry on social media. The ministry leaders cannot post signs and posters in the building, or have slides in the pre-service slideshow. Certainly, you would not make any announcements about the ministry from the stage on a Sunday morning.

This will be the most emotional and challenging aspect of ending a ministry. People who are used to being able to put anything and everything in the bulletin or newsletter will be upset when they cannot do this anymore.

Here’s a pro tip: de-personalize the process for deciding what will be announced. Utilize a communications flowchart (download an example here from our friends at Fishhook here) so that people will know in advance what communications avenues will (or won’t) be available to them. The trick is to be consistent. If you tell one family that you won’t announce a Baby Shower from the stage, but you will when it’s the youth pastor’s wife, people will be upset. Don’t make exceptions. Create a communications plan and follow it.

Pulling the Plug Faster

If we can end something gracefully, we should. But sometimes we have to pull to plug faster. There are two reasons why you should end a ministry quickly.

First, end a ministry quickly when no one cares about it. Sometimes people will feel relieved when you cut a ministry. Don’t drag it out. Don’t end it gracefully. If it’s a ministry no one likes, the graceful thing is to end it quickly.

Secondly, you have to end a ministry quickly if it’s holding back your primary ministries. Most of your ministries that need to die are distractions from what matters most, but they aren’t actively holding your primary ministries back unless you feed them with time, resources, and attention. 

Occasionally, you’ll have a ministry that will hold back your primary ministries no matter what—and it would be impossible to starve them of time, resources, and attention. For example, sometimes churches will decide to shift from Sunday school to Small Groups. The easy transition is to shift Sunday School classes into Small Groups that meet on-campus on Sundays. However, if you determine that this will not work, you cannot gracefully end Sunday School. People will feel compelled to “choose a side.” You’ll never have the thriving Small Group ministry you envision so long as you keep the Sunday School ministry around. You’ll need to end it within a year.

Wrapping It Up

If you follow the steps outlined above, most ministries will die on their own within three to five years. To end a ministry, you only need to starve it of time, resources, and attention. 

Push through the awkwardness and have a pastoral heart. Stick to the plan, but show empathy as you do. Plan on transitioning to starved time, resources, and attention over six to twelve months, and frequently communicate throughout the transition.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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