How About Church Practices Instead of Church Programs?
OK, let’s say you want to change something about the culture of your church. You want to help people move from a consumeristic mindset to a discipleship mindset. You want disciples who live on mission to make more disciples who live on mission to be the norm for your church…
How do you do it? If you’re like most leaders, your go-to strategy is to adopt and implement some kind of church program to make it happen. We’ll preach a sermon series and offer this program that people can sign up for, and we’ll be on our way!
So we buy the materials, write the sermons, get the staff on board, recruit the facilitators, put up the signs, put a booth in the foyer, talk about how excited we are about this new thing, and try to get everyone to sign up for the church program.
If you’ve never tried this kind of thing, I’ll save you some time and effort: it just doesn’t work.
Even when you get a great turnout and participation in the program, the real results you were looking for won’t be evident. People’s lives won’t really be changed, they’ll just get busier and more excited for a season, and then you’ll move on to the next thing.
So even when it does seem to work, it doesn’t really work. Even if you succeed in getting people into the program, it doesn’t result in the life change you were hoping for.
Programs vs practices
Part of the problem is that there’s something wrong with the very idea of recruiting people to attend church programs, and it’s this: offering church programs to people plays into the very same consumeristic mindset that keeps them trapped in non-discipleship.
So here’s an idea: instead of asking which programs are “working” (which typically means the ones that are well-attended), try asking this instead: What practices are forming us into a community that can pay attention to and participate in God’s mission?
The difference between thinking in terms of “programs” and “practices” is more than semantic.
- We offer programs for people to consume (usually by simply “showing up”), but
- With practices, we invite people to, well, practice them!
- A program is just something we can only really attend or support, and it doesn’t have much formative power.
- A practice is something we do together that shapes and forms us as a community.
For an example of what I’m talking about, check out the practices we are cultivating in the church I lead.
What if every ministry at your church needed to be filtered through this lens of “practices that form us to pay attention to and participate in God’s kingdom”? If the ministry or church activity doesn’t lead us into that, we stop doing it.
It might change a lot of what you do. It could also change a lot about how you do what you do.
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