Seven Problems with an Activity-Driven Church

Many churches are busy, probably too busy. Church calendars fill quickly with a myriad of programs and activities. While no individual activity may be problematic, the presence of so many options can be.

An activity-driven church is a congregation whose corporate view is that busier equals better. More activities, from this perspective, mean a healthier church. The reality is that churches who base their health on their busyness already have several problems. Allow me to elaborate on seven of those challenges.

  1. Activity is not biblical purpose. Certainly some activities can move a congregation toward fulfilling her biblical purposes. But busyness per se should not be a goal of a healthy congregation.
  2. Busyness can take us away from connecting with other believers and non-believers. It is sadly ironic that local churches are often a primary reason we do not connect on a regular basis with people in our community and in the world. We are too busy “doing church.”
  3. An activity-driven church often is not strategic in its ministries. Leaders do not think about what is best; they often just think about what is next on the activity list.
  4. A congregation that is too busy can hurt families. Sadly, some church members are so busy with their churches that they neglect their families. Our churches should be about strengthening families, not pulling them apart.
  5. An activity-driven church often has no presence in the community. Christians should be Christ’s presence in the communities their churches serve. Some Christians are just too busy doing church activities to have an incarnational presence in the community.
  6. Activity-driven churches tend to have “siloed” ministries. So the student ministry plans activities that conflict with the children’s ministries that conflict with the senior adult ministries, and so on. Instead of all the ministries and activities working together for a strategic purpose, they tend to work only for their particular areas.
  7. Churches that focus on activities tend to practice poor stewardship. Many of the activities are not necessary. Some are redundant. Others are sacred cows. Ministry effectiveness can often be enhanced with less instead of more.

Many of our churches have traded effectiveness for busyness. Good use of the resources God has given us demands that we rethink all we are asking our members to do in our churches. We really need more simple churches. Now that’s a novel concept.

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  1. David Coggins says

    I teach leadership and focus on being purposeful and strategic in planning and decision making, these are some great elements to reinforce the need to be strategic and mission driven as opposed to being activity driven. I will pass these along to students.

  2. Drew Dabbs says

    Great reminder! I’m getting ready to lead our newly reconstituted Long-Range Planning Committee down the Simple Church path. Prayers appreciated… ’cause it may or may not be a tough sell.

  3. Dan Calkins says

    This is a great blog post that the church I serve as assoc. pastor desperately needs to heed. We need to heed it in church activities and personal activities. We have had two business meetings where we have addressed members needs, where the obvious problem is busyness but falsely diagnosed as “guilt for not being actively involved,” and the “solution” decided by the congregation is an additional weekly meeting without taking away any activity on our already 5-day-a-week schedule (not including monthly or special activities that often take up weekends).

    We are turning into a community center with the good intention of inviting others to its activities, but not engaging the community where they are. I’m afraid our busyness is keeping us from addressing weightier matters.

    I know I’m ranting, but hear my heart. I love this local church, but I don’t want this mentality to spread. We need to slow down and focus on Christ.

  4. Allen Calkins says

    Years ago Tom Hanks had a cute movie called ‘The Money Pit’ about an old house they were enticed to buy that sucked them dry of all the money they had trying to ‘fix it up’. The church can become ‘The activity pit’ demanding more and more time from members without giving them anything in return that really contributes to their spiritual growth…and their massive time, talent and treasure sacrifice often times is also not leading to kingdom growth. Rather than going to ANOTHER Bible study every week, invite neighbors over for a movie once a month as a deliberate evangelistic and spend the other weeks with your family doing something to help your kids and spouse grow spiritually…after all, they are your ‘first church family’.

  5. David Highfield says

    Good stuff. I see an issue with activity-driven congregations when announcements at the beginning of or during worship consume 10-15 minutes. It’s helpful if these announcements invite worshipers to deepen their commitment to God and community service, but often these announcements are less than mission focused and already appear in bulletins and newsletters. How do continuous announcements enhance our purpose for gathering – worship? And do they encourage or discourage first time guests in worship? I suspect that most pastors have a love/hate relationship with announcements.

  6. David Frost says

    Number 4 reminded me of a conversation I overheard while watching my daughters at gymnastics about 15 years ago. A woman was complaining that there is so much going on at the church that she felt pressure to be there every time. Her complaint was that she had no time with her family; not even time to cook one meal a week and sit down to eat together. By the way, the gymnastics class was well before the typical dinner time and she was leaving there to go to church for some activity. As I look at bulletins and Facebook pages of other churches they are still crammed full of activities at the church. I worry about burn out especially in my smaller church. The sad part is that too often this is what is equated with serving God or fulfilling your ministry. Service and ministry occur in our daily lives outside the four walls of the church. If everyone would be faithful to serve God in their daily lives as God calls them, the church would have no need of programs or activities as a mask for ministry and service. The early church had none of these, not even a building and grew exponentially. That could happen today if we follow their example. Just my thoughts.

  7. laura jones says

    Great article. The church is busy because that is what we value. When someone asks how we are we say “so busy” as though it is a badge of self worth. When we begin to live our spirituality from the inside out, the busyness ceases to be important. he church cannot solve the problem by doing less. We need to communicate true spirituality. What does it mean to be Christian and in community? Spiritual formation is so desired! I like to communicate busy as Being Under Satan’s Yoke. B>U>S>Y!

  8. says

    Very helpful thoughts. I’ve seen this played out too many times in various churches. It plays out the worst when staff members feel they need to compete with each other for more events and more attendance. We exchange the mission of the church for our mission to stay employed and valued. Budgets soar, people become consumers, and the mission to see people saved and discipled suffers. Activities aren’t essentially bad, but they must be tested through the lens of a singular vision and mission and be consistently evaluated to see if they are producing the intended and desired fruit.

  9. Art Stafford says

    Good reminder, Dr. Rainer. When I was a youth ministry intern, the first thing the youth pastor taught me was, “If it doesn’t make a difference, don’t do it.” That was 23 years ago. It has helped me focus my time and resources in tight budgets and busy schedules. It has helped me determine whether an event or study was a good investment, and has kept costs down for families and the church, and has allowed students to be more focused as well as helping in other ministries such as VBS, community service, and our church’s two big outreach events each year. Still every time I consider an event, I ask myself, “What difference will it make?”

  10. Bob Pruett says

    From one we truly miss…Harry Piland…”If it takes a circus to get them…it will take a circus to keep them.”

  11. Wayne says

    So true. And what is rarely on the calendar is reaching and caring for “The Unchurched Next Door.

    Bless you, Thom. That book changed my thinking and more importantly, my activities four years ago.

  12. diane gamwell says

    Yes that I think is true. A lot of elders and others do have to much responsibility and handing it down is not enough people . So I think those are still in the stress of things instead of coming in our Savior presence to ask for forgiveness and praise for his many blessings that we need to see and act out with heart. His House is a calm and holy church. I think church activities should be as one. We can all work out together. WSBC has a a lot of missions. Our main mission should be on Sundays , Wednesday prayer services, our meals, and a study classes. That’s about the basic. VBSchool, summer camps. Is all the basics. Other groups are nice for elders and those. I pray we will all be in our Saviors decision.

  13. says

    Dr R,

    This is so true. Your book Simple Church influenced me 6 years ago so much. I tried to lead the church I was at to move to a Simple model but realized it was a losing battle. Now that I’m in a para-church ministry we have joined a Simple Church & couldn’t be at a better place in my spiritual life. Thanks.

  14. Jim McCluskey says

    I have a problem with the term “Activity-Driven Church”. Your definition is of internal or self serving activities. But if a church is not “activity driven” in outreach and evangelism, it is dead. We need more of the right activities in ministry. Besides most of our members are not “active” in anything. We are churches with “comfortable pews.” Indeed, the laborers are few.

    • Deb says

      Jim, I couldn’t agree with you more. There is nothing wrong with activities IF they are done with purpose, for spiritual growth and/or outreach. Yes, they must be done strategically and should not be the focus of a church, but people need to feel engaged in the organization and have opportunities to be involved in something.

  15. God's servant says

    I would like to share what just happened to my best friend’s church in California. He started the new church 10 years ago with 20 members,and later on his team thought that the church is too small, so they planned to bring more people to join the church by making pot luck once a month and invited people to come for free lunch, the leaders were asking all members to cook big meals to feed 100 people. The first 2 years it was seemed to be ok, but the 3rd years most of the members got so tired of the cooking and didn’t see anyone who came to eat free foods join the church. Some of those members started to leave the church because of the conflict on who can or can’t continue to cook. Last year, they closed down the church because of the disappointment and didn’t see the result on what they have been doing for 10 years. I’m hoping that my sharing will be helpful for some of you that trying to increase God’s church by your own idea and strength God bless

  16. says

    This is a great discussion to have Thom. To add to your results with a activity driven church, is I believe it leads to burnout the staff and volunteers as well. If we are constantly in the process of doing instead of being, than we might as well run on a treadmill all day while we work because that is what is happening to our heart and soul. I believe this is why many people fall away from ministry including staff and volunteers because they can’t keep up with the pace. You bring up some excellent points Thom. Thanks for the discussion.

    • says

      Brett – you took the words out of my mouth. I’ve invested 11 years of my career working full time in the technical ministry at three churches, and several more years contracted as a live sound engineer. At the end of my first five years at an active church I found myself in complete burnout, crying my eyes out every night as I drove home. I left for a few years, then went back for three more, only to have the same experience. I’ve only worked in one church where I felt truly valued and appreciated. I know many musicians, pastors and techs who every week endure what I went through for so many years, and either don’t realize it, or are in denial of the reality.

  17. says

    Late to the party, and I may have missed someone else saying this, but if it’s activities that keep folks at a church, then activities can take them away from the church. Just show them a new one with more of what ever they liked about the church activity, than the church has, and off they go.

    There’s also the fact that human beings get tired of things. I’m not aware of much of anything that we don’t get used to, whereupon it loses some of its attractiveness to us. EXCEPT: the Spiritual things.

    I’ve traveled enough that there’s no place I want to see, badly enough to go there. And I’ve got enough house and stuff that new stuff has lost its appeal. But teaching a SS class or leading a Bible study or just preparing a lesson is more interesting and exciting than it’s ever been, in about 50 years of church involvement. And it just keeps getting better!

  18. says

    As the days of old are no longer “the way things used to be” is now a reality as it relates to the Church, we need to be more intentional how we steward our time and resources to bring glory to God’s name. As a full-time Youth Director at my church, there is a pull between “how many students” are at an event and another pull of “what’s the event about”. The old model of “If you build it, they will come” is no longer valid…in fact, people tend to be suspect of it. I have really cut back on the number of events for students and focused more on the quality and promotion of a particular event. This in my experience has lent itself to a better turnout in terms of “numbers” as well as brought more depth in how the activities tied into the theme. In that, God gets the glory and that is the whole point of what we do for Christ’s sake. I shared this article with our Church Council as we are preparing our next calendar year’s budget and where our church offerings are to be spent. God’s timing is perfect!

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