Becoming an “__al” Church: Programs Matter

Whether we like it or not, churches are a sum total of the programs they’re executing at any given time. Some church leaders hate the “P-word.” You know, “program.” In today’s church world, the buzzwords are things like “missional” and  ”transformational.” Those have nothing to do with programs, right? Wrong!


Missional churches are successfully missional by executing various programs effectively. Transformational churches, achieve real transformation when they put together the necessary and appropriate programs. Sorry, but it’s a fact.

Maybe it’s the word people don’t like. You know the word… “program.” What does program really mean? Well, in the church setting, it’s really just a plan of action. And if we’re going to be missional, transformational, relevant, post-modern, or any other hip new descriptor, we better have a good plan of action.

Now, here’s where many churches fail. They aspire to become missional, transformational, or some other word ending in “al,” but they either (a) don’t have a plan of action or (b) their plan of action is really bad. So, how do we become more successful “al”-word churches? To avoid failure, here are nine things to do when creating your plan of action (I didn’t want to say program).

  1. Start with prayer. This one seems like a no-brainer. Especially in a church. You’d be surprised however, how often brilliant plans are hatched, developed and launched with little or no prayer time surrounding them. Most of the prayer time comes later; after the program is failing or has failed. Begin the process with prayer, saturate your planning with prayer, and sustain the plan and the people involved with prayer constantly. Pray, pray, pray!
  2. Talk to people before you make your final decisions. Very often, we develop our plan of action in a vacuum. We sit around a table somewhere, in our collaborative (another good buzzword) groups and we “make a plan.” The problem is in our failure to consult with those outside of our group. We don’t talk to the very people we’re planning to serve, so we really have no idea if our plan is really on track. Don’t plan in isolation. Be sure you do your research before rolling out your plan. If it’s the right plan, it probably won’t look like exactly the plan you had in mind originally.
  3. Give your plan a name. People want to know what to call this revolutionary new plan. There is no reason to get overly creative when deciding what we’ll call it. A plan to provide transportation assistance to single mother’s in our community doesn’t have to be called Solo Mama Transport Assistance. And please don’t use an acronym. No one will ever remember what SMTA means. Why not just call it Rides for Moms. Simple enough. It makes sense and it’s easy to remember. Once you’ve named it, be sure and refer to it the same way every time. Consistency matters.
  4. Always begin with an initial trial period. You need to stipulate, from the very beginning, a time at which your new plan of action (or program) will be evaluated. When that time comes, you should gauge your success and decide if (a) the plan is perfect and should continue unchanged, (b) the plan is working, but needs some tweaks, or (c) this is a really bad idea and we should discontinue our program effective immediately. You have to give yourself permission at the outset, to make one of those choices. Otherwise, a bad plan with roll on indefinitely, wreaking havoc and sucking energy.
  5. Start every plan with a definite end date. Even is a plan is working marvelously, it should have a predefined shelf life. Programs that rock on forever become stale and get lost in shuffle over time. Even if you know you want to continue whatever it is the plan is doing, you should always have an end date. You can then rename the plan, make any necessary adjustments, and relaunch the program with new energy and excitement. An exciting working plan is always more effective than a plan that still happens to be working, but has lost it’s excitement.
  6. Communicate the plan clearly, concisely, and often. This is self-explanatory. You need to let people know about the new program. Start early, build anticipation, and kick it off with enthusiasm. Then, when you talk about it, keep it simple. Don’t make it complicated or include a lot of unnecessary details. Remember, less is more. Finally, talk about it often. You’ll get tired of saying it long before it really sinks in and permeates your culture. Say it over and over and over. Find new and creative ways to say it, but say it often.
  7. Do it well. There is nothing worse (at least in my opinion) than doing something important, but doing it poorly. If it’s important, it deserves excellence. If you can’t do it in outstanding fashion, you need to ask yourself if you should do it at all. When something is done poorly, it quickly loses steam. People lose interest, the energy quickly dries up, and funding (if funding was required) goes away. If you’re going to do it, do it well. No exceptions.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask people to help. If it’s a good plan it’s going to be bigger than you or your planning group. You’re going to need people to serve. Don’t be afraid to ask them to step up. Don’t ask apologetically, rather paint the picture of this amazing opportunity they can be a part of. It shouldn’t be a burden for people to serve, it should be an honor and a privilege.
  9. When things go well, celebrate and give God the credit. Celebrate the wins, big wins and small wins. Talk about the success stories. Engage and excite people with the stories of victory. But… always, every time, and without fail, thank God and give Him all the credit.

Remember, programming – or planning – is a necessary part of successful ministry. Done well, programs help us achieve our God-given goals and objectives. In order to carry out the work God has laid before us, we must plan. Take the extra time, think through the nine things above, and make  your plan a winner.

Question(s): Do you have any programs, currently going on in your church, that have lost their effectiveness and need to be discontinued? What’s stopping you?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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