Most churches—more than eight out of ten—are busy. Too busy. These churches need to slim down their plethora of programs, activities, and ministries. They need to go a busyness diet.

Unfortunately, many church leaders equate activities with godliness or ministry fruitfulness. For certain, churches must have some clear plan of discipleship for their members. Sadly, some of the busiest churches actually diminish discipleship fruitfulness. And ceasing certain activities in the church can be extremely hard. You can run into sacred cows and favored ministries. Still, most churches should pursue a busyness diet for at least seven reasons.

  1. Excessive activities can actually preclude members from growing spiritually. I actually interviewed one church member who said he didn’t have time to read his Bible. He was worn out almost every day from church activities.
  2. A church that is too busy rarely evaluates the effectiveness of its activities. Leaders often erroneously presume that the busyness is a sign of fruitfulness.
  3. Activity-focused churches are often inwardly focused. Those ministries are typically for the members and are rarely evangelistic or community focused.
  4. A busy church can hurt families. Many churches have different activities for children, students, and adults on multiple days of the week. Family members rarely have time together.
  5. Activity-focused churches can cause member burnout. When a member burns out, he or she then drops out.
  6. It is difficult for a church to do a few things well when it does too many things. Quantity thus replaces quality, and the most vital ministries suffer.
  7. Busy churches often lack vision clarity. Because these churches are going in so many directions, members are confused about the priorities and vision of the church.

Try this exercise. List every ministry, program, or class that your church offers in a year. If the list is exceedingly long, see if just a few can be eliminated without much pain. Then, before you add anything else to the activities of your church, make a commitment to eliminate two existing activities.

Admittedly, busyness diets are not always easy or pleasant. But they can make the difference between a busy church and a fruitful church.

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  1. Milton Kornegay says

    I agree with this, Dr. Rainer! We are in the process of evaluating our ministries and seeing if we can’s streamline for the coming year! Thanks for this confirmation.

  2. Jonathon Grant says

    What a great post Dr. Thom. As I read these seven items, I see 1)Spiritual Growth 2)Fruitfulness 3)Outward Focus 4)Family Oriented 5)Balanced Ministry 6)Starting and finishing well 7)Clear Vision.

    I’m reminded of Matthew 28:19-20, which defines the purpose and focus of the church I am also reminded of how the Church looked in the second chapter of Acts and how God responded when His people were focused on the right things.

    In the world’s economy, I found great success by focusing on our purpose and our core competencies. We poured into our people; making leaders who made leaders for the benefit of the organization. As a leader, I was responsible for the overall vision and the direction in which the organization was headed. I had to jealously defend the vision and our purpose.

    God’s economy isn’t so different. In fact, one could argue that the business world stole God’s idea of a successful and fruitful organization. We’re supposed to be “out there”, leading folks to Christ and making disciples who make disciples for the glory of God. We pass along our God given vision and hold true to our purpose, avoiding any distraction. We must jealously defend the cause of Christ at all cost.

    May God bless you as you sharpen your focus on the purpose of the Church and as you lead His people.

    In His Grip-

  3. steve pryor says

    Great job. A root cause of some of these issues is the Pareto Princilpe. The 80/20 rule. 80% of the “work” done at the Church is done by 20%of the people. If the entire Church membership truly served, the busyness of the 20% would be reduced.

    I know my comments are negative, which I regret, but I believe it to be accurate.

  4. Phillip says

    Martyn Lloyd-Jones, speaking on Unity of the Church, remarked,” The danger of organised activity
    Being before Doing
    The importance of the teaching given to the new Christian
    Rushing of converts into activity is dangerous.”

  5. says

    Excellent points here! I’ve seen churches where the staff and volunteers are wearing out as they attempt to be all things to all people. They’ll start heading for the exits unless leaders start trimming back. Your points on vision clarity and measuring effectiveness would certainly help leaders decide what activities their church should eliminate so they can focus on where they can have the greatest impact.

  6. Dave says

    I have found that it is difficult to transform church members minds to slim down the church calendar. I have repeatedly told the church leaders we can not compete with cultures and society’s entertainment options. We must be different show the way to be simple. Discipleship is key. Spend time teach others to obey Christ!

  7. Ms Gee says

    Enjoyed the article and totally agree. I was part of a church that had a ministry for every felt need of the congregants. I think the damaging part is when the ministries and programs are made such a requirement that the congregants feel under compulsion to try to be apart of them all (manipulation). I personally, believe a healthy church can make disciples on about 5 to 6 ministries.
    Again, great article!

  8. Kathy Mullins says

    I’m involved in a new church plant ( 5 years old). I get the gist of your article and our pastor is carrying out these ideas at our church. In keeping with this philosophy, he has informed me that he doesn’t want a ladies on going Bible Study at our church. Being an older woman, I feel that my Biblical mandate is to help younger women grow in the Lord. I have been a Bibles teacher for many years and most recently am part of a ladies Bible study at a different neighborhood church ( about 70 ) women attend, But the women at my church do not attend this community activity. It is out of the area and it is in the day time.My husband and I lead a weekly life group in our home and we discuss the sermon and its application to our daily lives. However, there are some woman who NEED the fellowship and support of other woman and I feel sad that our pastor is opposed to this. He allowed me to hold a 12 week evening session last Spring, but told me that he was against it continuing. I feel that my gifts are not being used. I’d appreciate your comments or wisdom.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Kathy –

      I’m sorry for the problems you have encountered. I cannot really offer much wisdom without a lot more information about the church.

  9. says

    Excellent! This is right where we’re at. There is much we do because it’s tradition, and this year we are narrowing our emphasis and only doing things that contribute to the vision. Jesus never called us into tradition, or busyness.
    I think our great challenge is to confront the dominant mindset that the church is responsible for the spiritual lives of its members. The church (as an organization) is a supplement in the life of faith. As it is, individuals don’t see their own responsibility to follow Jesus in their daily lives through their misplaced dependence on church structure. Jesus never led anyone into a synagogue. He met them there and led them out to follow him. We are here to equip the saints for works of service, not build a cage of Christian amenities.
    Thank you Dr. Rainer. Your ministry is a greatly blessing to us!

  10. says

    This is absolutely on target, and brave, in light of the fact that it’s swimming against the tide, so to speak.

    I have personally decided that God meant what He said when He said we are to rest on the Sabbath. The Sunday I’d prepared the lesson that proposed that … TGP Fall Session 4 … I noted 12 items on the church schedule for the day, aside from 3 Sunday School hours and 3 Worship hours … all of which could have been done on another day.

    It’s almost seeming the church’s mission is to fill up the calendar with things inside the church. Which confuses me because, while I understand it, I just don’t “get it”.

  11. Deeson says

    WoW! This is so true! I was (and will be put back) as a leader of a new church. I was doing the things in the church but not giving my time to God…I was (not in this order) cleaning church, checking to make sure everything was stocked up, assistant to my pastors, over the youth, checking on visitors, leading services, preaching the Word, teaching the Word, leading prayer, doing deliverance and other jobs BUT I didn’t spend time giving God my all!!! Now I think back and I wonder why did I even try do it in my strength?! I was wrong and I am still learning from this. Leaders must always be very careful to not be in a place of doing works but living to only please God. My overseer calls it “performance orientation.” God will give us the all the help, the answers, the strength, the strategies and the understanding about how and what to do to be great leader in the kingdom of God…this was an on time topic!

  12. says

    There might be another factor in play here. Perhaps it is that pastors need some assurance in what they see, that they’re doing it right. Particularly where a church is plateaued or where attendance is just sort of stagnant, how WOULD a pastor know?

    He could judge how many people are joining, but joining is visible but the back door isn’t, so that’s not a good measuring stick.

    There are lots of other things like that, but the real test is whether the church is fulfilling its part in the great commission, and whether the people are being prepared and engaged in the “good works” prepared in advance for them to do. Unless the church has a handle on what people are doing out there in the mission field in which we’re living (which is the uttermost part of the world), then one would have to look elsewhere for evidence of “success”. Perhaps pastors get some assurance from the number of programs. How much is on the calendar.

    • says

      A great point Bob. I pastor in one of those contexts and often find myself wondering if I’m doing it right, but the numbers can be decieving, and more isn’t always better. Sometimes, like Peter, I look over my shoulder at another situation and wonder why I am where I am, and why I can’t be more like them. It’s in those moments I am challenged to ask, 1) who is this really about?, and 2) where does my assurance come from? If I measure my success by the things I can measure, manage, manipulate, and control, then I am way off base. I’m certain Jesus didn’t measure his success by the number of anything, but by his communion with his Father. It seems to me that we do a very good job of building the business of “church” rather than the Kingdom of God, and thus we make customers and consumers rather than surrendered disciples of Jesus Christ. All these programs and offerings from the church cage us inside the building and nurture our spiritual gluttony, and they keep us from actually following Jesus and partnering with him individually and corporately. Maybe what needs to happen is that we let this structure fall to the ground and die so that we can be transformed and bear fruit? This is not to say that programs are bad, but our view and use of them is. Pastors cannot measure their value and success by them, and the church cannot depend upon them for the whole of thier faith. They must be suppliments in our intimate communion with Jesus.

  13. Jeff Blackburn says

    We were put on a diet about six and half years ago when a tornado devastated our entire town, including all eight church buildings, the school, the hospital and the downtown area. We were “forced” to rethink being the church in our region. It was not merely a weight loss program, but it became a new lifestyle. The congregation did not reinstitute everything we had done before. It has freed us to be involved in our communities, schools and neighborhoods because we aren’t at the church every other night for a meeting. I would like to think it doesn’t take disaster before we wake up, but…. Along the same lines, I did not replace my entire library, which forced me to rely on the Spirit more than ever. I still haven’t replaced most of the books, and the Spirit continues to speak! Tozer said, “…when the Holy Spirit is not present in the church, you have to get along after the methods of business, or politics or psychology or human effort.” He also described present-day Christians well when he wrote, “…the busiest bunch of eager beavers ever seen in the religious world. The idea seems to be that if we are not running in a circle, breathing down the back of our own neck, we are not pleasing God.” I am grateful that the Lord of the church was patient with us, and that He continues to shape our ministry and service in fresh ways. Thank you for this article.

  14. says

    I agree with you to a point.. I believe there are some people who are truly blessed by a tremendous variety of ministries within the life of the church. Having served a number of small country/small town churches, I have also seen a number of families leave for a larger church because of the variety of ministries offered.

    I think one criterion for cutting back needs to be how many people is this ministry impacting. Some small ministries (we have a playgroup for children with downs syndrome) only impacts a few families and do not detract from the overall ministry of the church. While others, an evening service because we’ve always had one can drain energy from the congregation even thought the numbers impacted are larger than the smaller ministry.

    Also, coming from a pastor’s point of view – when ministries are owned by the laity who are truly passionate about that ministry, I have a hard time telling them not to do what they feel God is calling them to do.

    Anyway, thanks for your posts – Always thought provoking and one of the few I read “religiously”

  15. says

    About four years ago we took a whole year off from all but the very necessary ministries using the 6 years you plant and reap a harvest and one year you let it lie and rest principle. Our church had explosive growth during that year off. It was amazing to see. We are now in the process of relocating our entire facility and had to shut ministries down due to not having a building during our transition and we will only ad back ministries as needed and necessary. Letting go of some ministries was the best thing we ever did and we are producing more fruit than ever before. To really be a good ministry it has to have great leadership and the right support team or it will not be productive. There are all kinds of needs but it doesn’t mean we have to meet them all at our church. It’s time to do some things together with other churches. Love your article.

  16. says

    I wonder what correlation there is between “church business” and numeric growth. This wonder causes me to ponder more deeply the 3rd chapter of Dr. Stott’s last book, The Radical Disciple.

  17. Craig Hardee says

    Ironic but true article by the President of LifeWay, an organization that cranks out so many great resources that we feel compelled to fill our calendars to use them. :)

  18. Gary Hadley says

    Always enjoy your posts. This one reminded me of a quote from one of the great ministers from the past. “Bearing fruit is reproduction in kind.” Busyness is not necessarily fruit. Converts to Christ are fruit. Fruit is success.

  19. Glenn Warner says

    Hi Thom,

    Thank you so much for this insightful post.

    What would you recommend as a resource to help pastors and ministry leaders further evaluate their ministries biblically along this line of thought?




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