Planning for Rural Ministry
PLANNING FOR MINISTRY By Glenn Daman
In order to be more effective in its ministry and have a better understanding of what God desired it to do, the church had just complete its assessment of the church and community. From that assessment, they discovered that there was a segment within the community that was completely untouched by the gospel. Through their church assessment, the church realized that it possessed the ability and tools needed to reach the community with the gospel. The question that the church was struggling with was how it could effectively develop and plan ministries that would enable it to reach the community. Planning is not merely an organizational function, it is the means by which the church puts into present reality the mission of reaching, discipling and recruiting people to the ministry of Christ's kingdom. Without planning, the great commission remains a mandate to the early church rather than a reality in the life and ministry of the contemporary church. Developing a ministry strategy involves three key ingredients. It involves program development, organizational structuring and goal setting. Productive planning focuses upon the strengths and potential of the church rather than the problems and weaknesses what might exist. It is based upon the premise that the church is equipped by God to accomplish his ministry in the present and in the future (1 Cor 12:18).
The planning process begins by developing the programs and ministries of the church. Programming is the determination of what needs to be done to achieve the vision and mission of the church and the organization required to accomplish it. However, it is important to realize in the rural church that the focus must be upon the relational impact of the program rather than just the organizational impact. Because the rural church is relationally driven rather than organizationally driven, the programs should serve to further unite and develop the relationships within the church.
Step One: Identify the Ministry Needs
After a church has assessed the community and congregation (see vol 2 no 4), the information can be utilized to identify and evaluate the ministry needs within the church and within the community. While the needs will ultimately be spiritual, the church can carefully examine the physical and emotional needs of people in order to develop programs that will ultimately minister to the redemptive needs. Once a need is identified, the church should look at the existing programs within the church that might be used to meet the need. Traditional programs, while at times may be obsolete, often continue to meet important spiritual needs within the congregation and community. Rather than starting new programs, the established programs can be adjusted to be effective in ministering to the needs of people. Only when the present programs are incapable of meeting the needs, should the church consider developing new programs.
Step Two: Write a Purpose and Vision Statement for the Program
Just as the church needs a clear statement of purpose and vision, so also each program and ministry should have a clear purpose and vision statement. This statement should define why the ministry exists, what it seeks to accomplish and how it will accomplish it. Since the church is ultimately spiritual and redemptive, this statement should be spiritual and redemptive in focus. The statement should communicate the spiritual purpose for the ministry, not just the organizational purpose.
Step Three: Recruit a Team
Ministry is a team sport. The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, outlines the importance of team ministry. There are no 'Lone Rangers' in the ministry of Christ. The church is made up of different individuals who are uniquely gifted and called to work together to achieve common goals. Forming a team enables individuals to accomplish more than they could accomplish in isolation with one another (see Eccl 4:9-13). Christ, in sending out the seventy-two disciples, formulated teams consisting of two disciples (Luke 10:1ff). By doing so, he provided a stronger base of ministry as each could encourage and strengthen the other as each brought different gifts and abilities to the team. Teams formed by the church are responsible for evaluating the activities, making the decisions, solving problems, and establishing the goals and direction for the program. Once the team has been formed, the responsibility of the leadership is to prepare the team for accomplishing their responsibilities. There are four necessary requirements of the team to be effective. Effective teams have a common goal that they are working to achieve. They cooperate with one another, building trust in the relationship rather than suspicion. They communicate with one another, encouraging and challenging each other. Last, they have a commitment to one another and to the project. Without one of these four elements, the team will suffer and be less effective. The responsibility of the leadership of the church is to train people how to be effective in ministry and how to work together as a team. The process of developing a team involves four elements. The first is observation. Providing a team with the opportunity to observe others doing the ministry enables the team to gain a better understanding of what they are to do. This may involve the leader modeling the ministry or it may involve meeting together with a ministry team from another church to discuss how they perform the responsibilities. The second step is participation. In this, the ministry team begins to become active participants within the ministry. The team begins to perform the tasks and accept responsibility for the ministry. The third step is evaluation. The best time to teach is after the people have been involved in the ministry rather than before. As they become involved, they discover areas where they need training. Evaluating the team results in training that is relevant to the specific needs of the team. The fourth step is multiplication. After the team has been taught, and been involved in ministry they need to identify and train others who can also become part of the team.
Step Four: Identify Specific Goals
After the team has been formed, they can develop specific goals and objectives for their ministry. Allowing the team to decide the specific goals and objectives enables the team to develop ownership of the ministry. If the goals are dictated to them, then they will not gain ownership, resulting in lowed motivation.
Step Five: Determine the Resources
For every ministry project there are three critical resources needed: people, time, and material/finances. The challenge confronting the rural church is that it is often severely limited in each of these areas. Being effective with limited people begins by working with rather than around the traditional leaders within the church. Attempting to by-pass them will only bring resistance and frustration. Traditional leaders are individuals or families whose authority in the church is derived from the position they hold in the family, community or ethnic group who often dominates the congregation. With their support, others will be more committed and more willing to participate. The lack of the time availability people have to devote to ministry within the rural church requires the church to conserve its leaders. Overworking people will only result in burnout that brings a further shortage of workers available and time availability. The rural church, as it struggles to maintain its ministry, should focus upon doing a few things well rather than a variety of ministries haphazardly. The problem is that today's rural churches are being pressured to fulfill the multiple services opportunities dictated by the larger church. Instead the rural church needs to conserve its leaders by focusing upon its unique strengths and specialized focus of ministry. Only when new leaders are available should it consider beginning new ministries. Last, because the rural church has limited funds, it needs to develop strategies for financing the ministries. While the church has traditionally used only "free-will offerings" to fund programs, some church are using fund raisers as part of their ministry. For example, one church finances its youth program through community 'box socials'. The 'box socials', which attract many from community, not only raise funds for the youth program, but also serve as outreach events. For the entertainment, the youth provide music that presents the gospel. Carefully planning a program, means that the leadership needs to honestly assess what resources are required. Then it needs to carefully examine what resources are available and how the use of these resources will affect other ministries. If necessary, it may need to either drop another ministry, or wait in the establishment of a new ministry.
DEVELOPING THE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
Often organization is viewed negatively within the church. Organization is often viewed as secular and for the business world, but not for the church. Too often the church as an organism (the super-natural and invisible nature of the body of Christ) is separated from the church as an organization (the church as a visible, structured institution). However, both are an integral part of the true nature of the church. Organization is necessary to avoid confused priorities, miscommunication and misunderstandings that result in conflicts (see Acts 6:1-6). The purpose of the organizational structure is to provide clarity in responsibility and accountability. The church needs to outline who is responsible for what and to whom they are accountable so that the ministry is done effectively and efficiently. Leadership is making sure that the right things get done, management is making sure it is done in the right way. Both are necessary for effective organization. While each church will have a different organizational structure, it nevertheless should be clearly defined. The organizational structure should always be flexible and fluid. It should specify to whom the ministry is responsible and for what it is responsible.