Communicating with congregants and connecting ministries are two of the greatest challenges that I faced at New Covenant over the first six years of church planting. In fact, these continue to be two of the greatest areas of focus that we have as we seek to be a healthily growing church. Perhaps these are felt more in a church plant, and in the unique context that we have of planting a church in a military town. However, I tend to think that two of the greatest needs of any growing church are to communicate clearly with and connecting the various ministries of a congregation. The following are some ways that the elders/staff of our congregation have sought to practically communicate with and connect ministries more effectively:
1. Print a monthly newsletter. When we were only 70 members, it was much easier to make sure that everyone knew what was happening, where we were going and what needs existed among the members of the plant. Everything changed when we started hitting the 100 member mark. Then new challenges arose at 120 and 150 that we were not prepared to meet at 100. This continues to be a need at different stages where you meet new dynamics. At 70 members, most of the people in the plant knew one another, recognized when someone was visiting and filled one another in on what was happening if they missed a service in which some event or detail was mentioned. The most needful thing for us, at the 100 member mark, was a monthly newsletter. Prior to designing one, I was starting to hear quite a number of people say things like, “We didn’t know that ____ was happening,” or “When are we going to do ____?” or “What are we doing about ____?” I called one of my mentors to ask for counsel. “What would you do if you were in my situation?” His response? “You have to get out in front of the congregation and lead. You can’t be too far ahead of them or they will be asking ‘Where are we going;’ you can’t be side by side with them or they will want to lead. You have to be out in front of them just far enough to lead them forward and say, ‘Here’s where we’re going.'” During that conversation, he also recommended that we start printing a monthly newsletter. This was one of the best things that we did. It gave me a platform to write articles for the congregation that dealt with specific needs among the body. It gave me a place to write about what we were looking for in elders and deacons. It also gave us a place to talk about actions that the provisional session had taken at monthly meetings, as well as financial reports, ministry team schedules and upcoming events. After we started running the monthly newsletters, we would still hear a few people say, ‘We didn’t know about such or such an event.” Once you have a newsletter, you can simply point members back to it as containing everything that needs to be communicated to the congregation at any given time.
The other advantage to having a newsletter is that it sends a message to visitors. It lets those who are new to your church know that you are serious about organization and communication. It gives them an idea of where your church is heading. It fills them in or ways that they can get involved, who to contact, etc. It is a manageable, yet thorough way to digest the life of the church into an informational resource.
2. Establish Ministry Teams. A church planter can do a lot on his own if he is driven and can multitask. However, at around 70 members it becomes painfully obvious that you are only one person and cannot do it all. This is a point at which to start ministry teams. The idea of a ministry team is to encourage members who have certain gift sets to step into a volunteer role of chairing a committee that will helps get others in the church involved in serving for the good of some particular need in the body. For instance, we have ministry teams (or “committees” as we sterile Presbyterians like to call them!) for the following spheres of church life:
Worship – The worship team oversees the preparation of and the scheduling of men to oversee the distribution of the Lord’s Supper.
Music – The music team oversees the incorporation of musicians, the scheduling of hymns and songs and the arrangements of the music for our services and outreach events.
Set-up – The set-up team oversees the hanging of the church sign, the opening and closing of the building. This team also makes sure that the sound equipment, baptismal font and Bibles and hymnals are out.
Women’s fellowship – The women’s fellowship team organizes the monthly women’s meeting, the women’s bible studies and other events. They are responsible for all planning and communicating for these meetings.
Baby/wedding showers – The baby/wedding shower team obviously handles all the matters involved in baby and wedding showers.
Greeter ministry – The greeter ministry team is responsible for scheduling, training and coaching all who will serve at the front door and worship room door on Sunday morning. This team is responsible for making sure there are enough visitor cards, monthly newsletters, info cards, coffee cups, etc at the front table. They are also responsible to get info from visitors, make them feel welcomed and to assist them in getting their children to the right classes.
Hospitality – The hospitality team is responsible for encouraging and devising ways of caring for the members and visitors of the body, so as to help better connect people in the church in a sociable way.
Children’s ministry – The children’s ministry team is responsible for overseeing the organizing of materials and the scheduling and training of workers for Sunday school classes, devising ways of helping the parents memorize scripture and catechism in the home and any other events (e.g. VBS, special children outreach events, etc.).
Nursery – The nursery ministry team is responsible for overseeing all of the organizational needs and the scheduling and training of works in the nursery–both for the Sunday school hour and during the worship service. The nursery ministry team is responsible for making sure that background checks have occurred, that there are enough works with the safe dynamics that we require (i.e. no couple without a third, unrelated party may serve) and that everything is wiped down and organized before and after the services.
Christian education – Christian education team considers what books might be best for men’s book studies, women’s books studies, the book table, etc. This team is also responsible for overseeing any conferences or other Christian ed. formats.
Finance – The finance team is responsible to have layers of accountability is counting the offering, in recording the offering, in reconciling and bookkeeping and in reporting to the session YTD expenditures.
Meals ministry – The meals ministry team is responsible to discern what needs there are for those who have just had surgery, for mom’s who have just had babies and for any other circumstances that would necessitate the church caring by way of providing meals. There are procedures and limits for this committee as far as how many times they will provide meals. However, the goal of this ministry is to help mobilize the congregants in caring for the needs of the members of the body.
Food and fellowship – The food and fellowship team is responsible for overseeing all of the church wide dinners, cookouts, etc.
Military – The military team is meant to keep track of the needs of all of the families who have a father or mother deployed. In our context, this is an extremely necessary committee. This team exists to help inform the congregation of ways that they can help care for the needs of the wives here as well as in putting together care packages for the husbands abroad.
Outreach – The outreach committee is responsible for coming up with ideas for outreach and seeking to equip members of the congregation in carrying out outreach events.
These are just a few of the needs that we already had at 70 members. As we have grown we have noticed an increasing need to stay on top of these committees and to equip the committee chairs in carrying them out to the best of their ability. The goal is never to have one person doing all the work. This tends to be the default mode of for congregants, therefore, constant care needs to be put into meeting with the committee chairperson and encouraging them to get others involved in helping serve on these ministry teams. Meeting with each of the committee chairs once a quarter is necessary to staying on top of things in a healthy way. The elders of the church should always be talking through how things are going with regard to these committees at their monthly session meetings. This helps manage the life of the church in a way that will not wear one pastor out.
3. Strategically Hire Staff Members. We have been very blessed to have been able to hire exceptionally gifted and diligent staff members at New Covenant. The last thing that a growing church needs is incompetent, draining or undisciplined staff. However, there is only so much money with which to hire staff, and it is not always easy to discern which staffing needs are most important. Obviously finding a competent secretary/administrator who will construct and print bulletins, monthly newsletters, send out announcements, keep a pastor’s schedule, etc. is paramount to the health of a growing church. Beyond knowing that they need a good administrator, most pastors do not know what other hires they should make. Should a growing church hire a youth assistant, a counselor, an outreach coordinator or a music director once the church hits 100 members? That’s not an easy question to answer. The pastor/session of such a congregation must first know what resources they have within the congregation. If you have a competent pianist, you might not have to hire a music director for quite a while. If you have a young couple who wants to help out with youth, you may not have to hire a youth director. If the pastor is extremely people-oriented, you may not want to hire an outreach assistant just yet. You have to know the dynamics of the pastor and the congregation. I happen to be extremely extroverted and people-oriented. I also happen to be task-oriented. In the early years of the church plant, I was so weighed down with the administrative needs of the plant, the best hire after a secretary/administrator was an outreach assistant. We hired a man who had exceptional gifts in outreach and gathering. The next hire, however, was administrative. As the church grew and the communication needs doubled with small groups, ministry teams, nursery, Sunday school, greeters, coffee set-up and military families, we needed someone who would help manage schedules, communicate with the small group facilitators and help with any lose ends administratively. We hired a young man–who happened to be in seminary–to be a director of ministry administration. This helped alleviate enormous organizational and communication issues. We had this individual draft a list of questions for small group facilitators to ask at their small groups concerning any known needs among the congregation that need to be communicated to ministry team leaders. This way, we have one person running interference between small groups and committee chairs. This has helped us tighten up our communication for the whole congregation.
Additionally, some of the needs of committees have gotten so large and time consuming that we have had to hire a part time individual to take them over. Within this past year, we have hire a part-time nursery coordinator and a part-time children’s ministry coordinator. This has helped us give adequate focus to the needs of these all-important ministries.
Every day I feel as though there is so much more that could be done to communicate and connect more effectively at New Covenant. I also recognize that there is only so much time, money and help that can alleviate the needs. Your ministry needs will always outpace your resources. I have so much to learn and often feel as though I come to an end of myself as I try to figure out the best ways to communicate and connect in ministry. This is good as it makes us rely more on the Lord to provide when and in what ways we cannot discern. While we acknowledge that the Lord must provide we continue to seek out the most effective ways to tighten up the administrative needs in our church. I would love to hear ways that you have done so if you are the pastor or on staff of a small but growing congregation.