10 Questions You Should Never Stop Asking (as a ministry)

This article was originally printed in Forbes Magazine. As I read it, I realized that these concepts could be very useful for ministry… with some alterations for our ministry context. Here are my thoughts (italicized) on the 10 questions every church should be asking itself…

What is our purpose for existing? A lot of ministries had a purpose when they started, but over time their focus, service and demographics changed. It is important to remember why you exist on a regular basis. A favorite song of mine states, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” (Main Thing, Scott Krippayne)

Who is our target customer? This question has two aspects to it: we must remember that as a ministry, we exist to carry out Kingdom work. In a way, God is our customer: we are here so that our ministries can serve God. If we ever become an organization which exists just to further its own agenda, without keeping God’s leadership and presence central to our lives, we will have missed the point completely.

The other aspect is that our target customer is that group of people whom we are trying to reach. If we are a para-church organization who exists to reach junior high students, then we need to focus our efforts at the junior high culture. The key to remember is that culture is always shifting: if we entrench ourselves into doing “our” ministry in a certain way, we are sure to be left behind as our target demographic is always in flux. Ask yourself: are you adapting to the changes in your customer’s culture, or are you being left behind by them? Is it possible for you to be leading / instigating the changes in your customer’s culture?

Why does anyone need what we’re offering? All too often we fall into the trap that people want something because we like it. This is the road to perdition. As a ministry, we’re not “selling” anything; we’re trying to partner with the Lord in expanding God’s Kingdom. The thing we’ve got to remember is that many of our “customers” don’t realize how they *need* what God has to offer? There are any number of reasons for their need, but it has been said that a “sale” won’t be made until the need for the product is demonstrated.

If there is a need, is it enough to support an effective ministry? This comes down to understanding your target customer. If your ministry is a church, then being an effective church includes activities that are solely focused on God (prayer, worship), and activities that encourage others (outreach to the world). If you exist as a mission organization, you will probably focus more on the outreach aspect; building relationships with those in your target culture, you will create relational bridges whereby the “customer” can be introduced to God. It’s important to be thinking of HOW you’re going to accomplish your WHY.

What were our competitors up to? We must first realize that as members of God’s Kingdom, other ministries are NOT our competition. Jesus said that “he who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). Our competition is that which would pull someone away from the Kingdom. These competitors could be active (forces which actively try to pull people away from God) or passive (forces which distract one from moving towards God). Please note a challenge: it is foolish to try and compete with the forces of the world on their own turf. To be more specific: your ministry will never have as much money as Hollywood, so trying to directly enter their arena using their tools to accomplish their goals is not competition – if you become just like your competition, you’ve missed the point.

What is it that ministries have to offer people that nothing else in the world can offer? Relationship with God. That’s it. That’s all we have, and that’s all we need. OUR job is to help people realize that a relationship with God, that being a part of God’s Kingdom is better than anything else that could possibly be offered anywhere else.

Can you reduce expenses–without harming the product? Relationship with God isn’t expensive; it’s already been paid for through the work of Christ on the cross! Therefore, ministry shouldn’t be about cost-cutting for maximum benefit. However, we do recognize that being involved in people’s lives has a cost. One of the questions to ask is: are we paying the RIGHT costs? I could easily see paying $10,000 for a great 200 member youth group concert with the latest current hot band… but how many people would be brought to a greater understanding of the Lord, a closer relationship with Jesus? Would it be more effective to spend $5,000 and send  10 students on a life-changing mission trip? Be careful how you define “quality ministry”.

Do we have the right leadership? As ministries mature, they require different skill sets. It is helpful for a ministry to constantly evaluate itself: are we doing what God has called us to do? Could we learn from additional leaders/training/personnel?

Do we have the right people? Here is a truth: God uses broken people. Why? Because that’s all the Lord has to choose from! We’re ALL broken in some form or another. In ministry, can we match that brokenness to our Kingdom work so that God is glorified? This certainly entails finding the best people we can for a given task, but we must remember: this is ministry, not business. It’s important for a volunteer/staff person/leader to be faithful, available, and teachable.

How will we continue to drive revenue? I left this question in its original format because I wanted to make a point:the reason a business exists is to create revenue. If a business doesn’t make money for its owner, it has failed. In our context, we do not exist to make money, so we’re not driven to create revenue. What we must ask is: what ARE we driven to create? If not revenue, then why are we here? An organization based on evangelism will focus on “creating” converts; a religious school will be more concerned about graduating educated pupils. The question, even though it happens to be about money, is valid for ministries to process: HOW will we continually accomplish the task the Lord has set before us to do? Chances are, what works today won’t work tomorrow–just ask anyone in the media business.

How are your employees holding up? I was so obsessed with finding ways to fix the business that I would walk by everyone as if they were pieces of furniture. I didn’t observe their body language or solicit their input, even though was I playing around with their future. I was in my own little world and I didn’t notice the anxiety they were dealing with. You have to check the temperature of your employees, let them vent and encourage their honest feedback. These stakeholders are the key to pleasing your customers–and your shareholders. Replace the word “employees” with “volunteers”, and you’ll get a sense of a ministry issue: we must not USE people to accomplish a goal; we enlist people to accomplish a goal TOGETHER.

I hope this blog post has been as helpful for you as it has been for me to process through ministry issues…

KFJ – Ed

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