Thursday, October 18, 2007

5 Practices - the Whole and the Parts

The Missouri Conference has launched a pretty snazzy new website that is centered on the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations. I hope that everyone checks it out, and that it becomes a place where congregation leaders visit frequently about churchy stuff. Bish Schnay-Z is going to keep a blog there, some links to other places, and a section with some good potential to generate some buzz called “Ideas that Work.”

I think there should be another section there, too, titled “Ideas that Pretty Much Sucked,” but that may be why I’m not put in charge of these kinds of things! But I think there is real value in learning from trying things that just simply don’t work, and I have plenty of examples to share. Remember the quote attributed to Edison? Something like, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just learned 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Here in Northtown, as we revamp things around the 5 Practices, we have uncovered a potential pitfall that I’ll call “over-compartmentalization.” It arose in conversations about budget and staffing for next year. We discovered that we were tending to make very sharp contrasts among the 5 practices, to the point of trying to assign staff members to particular practices exclusively. However, we don't really have the staff needed to organize like that, and I really wonder if it ever is a wise thing regardless of staff numbers. Rather, we have a part-time staff member who works with adults on all 5 practices, another part-timer who works with youth in all 5, and another (a volunteer) who works with children in all 5 areas.

So then we were trying to figure out “what goes where” in the budget of ministries. Is Sunday night Youth Fellowship a “Faith Formation” thing? Yes. But it also involves inviting new youth to join (Hospitality), worshiping together, mission trips, and giving to the church (the youth generously tithe their fundraisers to the general fund of the church). When the conversation drifts into such hair-splitting, we are guilty of over-compartmentalizing.

The intent is not to create five departments – a “Hospitality Department,” “Worship Department,” “Mission Department,” “Faith Formation Department,” and “Generosity Department” – like the congregation is just another business like any. It is tempting to do so, to be sure, and maybe it would have worked a few decades ago to organize a congregation like that. But we are living in the post-everything generation, where everything is “post-this” and “post-that” and “post-theotherthing” and this time (karios moment?) resists that kind of rigid separation into categories.

Instead, 5 Practices calls us to look at the local congregation as a whole and see how the entire community is engaged in ministry. To be sure, the ministry will rotate around a core group of people whose responsibility it is to facilitate the congregation’s ministry in a particular area, but we’ve got to tightrope that walk so that we don’t fall into the over-compartmentalization trap. It is tricky, but doable.

Also posted here.


Pastor Amanda said...

I heartily agree that there should be places to identify what we tried that flopped.

sermon illustrations/jokes about being fruitful and multiplying while eating an apple and doing math on a mac laptop would fall into that category.

Steve Cox said...

Andy, the website changed the section from "Ideas that work" to "Share Your Stories." Stories sometimes have good endings and they sometimes have bad endings, so it looks like those well intending but bad ending ideas now have a home!

7pointblogger said...


I ran into this same problem while on staff at a church is Dallas, but back then it was NOW--Nurture, Outreach and Witness. We tried to split up the budget, create team leaders in each, and it created an "its not my area" mentality. Trying to push off ministry to another team. Plus, are the areas equal in value, or better yet, equally represented, amongst the ministries of your church, or are they a gage to show where the church is weak/strong in the areas of the 5 practices? Thanks for you insight.

Dave Wood said...

We actually started out trying to 'budget by ministry' (about 8 or 9 categories) so we could better identify where we did well, where we could do better; where we spent the most budget and where we spent the least. Our intent was not to 'compartmentalize' or 'pidgeon-hole' any team or ministry. Only to get a better 'view' of how the budget and ministries compared. We then experimented with placing the ministries under the 'umbrella' headings of the 5 practices. Andy is correct that it became difficult. We made too big of deal about the details of the little nuances of specific activities of specific ministries or events. It was far too finite. But after several revisions and some broader categories, I feel like we have developed an easy to understand budget that gives us a quick look at our minitries and the 'main' practice of the 5 that they address. We are not going to allow these budgetary designations to prevent anyone from 'crossing the line' into another area of ministry in order to further God's work! Quite the contrary. We feel like it will empower and give permission to anyone who wants to expand, adapt, or include any of the other ministries because whatever we do, we are speaking the same language of the 5 practices! Go Northtown!

Andy B. said...

Right on, Dave!