In renewal circles much has been discussed about the transition to a new post-modern, post-churched, post-institutional, and post-Christian era. Less discussed is a transition to a post-programmed world that is being hastened by the pandemic. For the past 75 years most ministry in North America has been delivered through programs: a ministry with a defined structure, schedule, curriculum, audience, and staff. They tend to be developed and overseen by a congregation’s leadership team, take place on or near the church premises and are relatively demanding when it comes to volunteers, planning and the cost of operation.
The robust programming that defined ministry for the better part of a century is proving difficult to sustain given the increased demands on congregant’s personal schedules, increased lifestyle choices available to members and a decrease in available volunteers and financial resources. Programming will not disappear from congregational life but most churches will move from being congregations of programs to congregations with programs. Congregations will need to imagine a new post-programmed way to have a Gospel-focused ministry.
Here are several emphases that may help churches invest in post-programmed ministry:
Emphasis 1: Trust Over Structure
A post-programmed church has to learn to let go and let God. They must be absolutely clear about how to grow but they must release responsibility for that growth to the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of members.
Emphasis 2: Family Discipleship Over Institutional Training
The long history of Christian faith formation has been instruction epi-centered in the home (Deut. 6). Only recently have Christian parents delegated this responsibility to church and school. The results are apparent.
Emphasis 3: Mentoring Over Classroom Instruction
Churches have embraced a Western educational model focused on the classroom rather than an Eastern educational model focused on life. In a post-programmed world, the older model of life-on-life training must be nurtured.
Emphasis 4: Self-Feeding Over Defined Curriculum
A new expectation for personal responsibility in faith formation must be developed. Congregants must be instructed in the practices of faith that nurture both increased knowledge and a deeper intimacy.
Emphasis 5: Spontaneity Over Scheduled Activities
A full season of scheduled activities can be replaced by one-off gatherings that demand smaller commitments with greater impact. For example, someone could host a faith-focused kayak trip for young dads.
Emphasis 6: Mutual Meaning-Making Over Leader-Led Agendas
Post programmed ministry is focused on exploring how faith addresses the daily challenges of ordinary life. Bringing people together around mutual meaning-making and problem-solving will attract participation.
Emphasis 7: Experiences Over Information Sharing
Post programmed ministry provides the opportunity to experience and express faith through tangible hands-on activity focused on real needs in the community. Spiritual guides can help focus these events.
Emphasis 8: Multiple Platforms Over Single Paths
A post-programmed church will use multiple tools to help people connect and grow including Zoom gatherings, chat rooms, group texts, social media, and so on.
Emphasis 9: Resource Libraries Over Verbal Instruction
A post-programmed church will develop resource libraries that can be tapped when specific interests or needs arise. These libraries can include past teaching series, suggested books, and helpful articles.
Emphasis 10: Less Over More
A post-programmed church must do more with less. They should encourage people to invest in intentional relationships that nurture faith and then release those relationships to freely develop on their own.