Shifting the church from program-driven to people-driven

A book that I recommend for church leaders to go through together is Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church by Reggie McNeal. Reggie McNeal is a part of Leadership Network and is a nationally known missional leader. I also have an affection for him as one of my teachers in the D.Min. program at Fuller Theological Seminary.
I owe a lot of my ideas for the practical outworkings of missional theology to Reggie. (He also is a pretty engaging speaker.) In this new book he shares a lot of these practical ideas. He goes through three major shifts that the church must take to be missional. These include:

- Shift from an internal to an external focus.

- Shift from being program-driven to being people-driven.

- Shift from a church-based leadership to kingdom-based leadership.

Let me comment a moment on the second shift (from program driven to people driven). What is the difference between a program and a people focus? Admittedly, sometimes there is a fine line between these two approaches.

Here are some usual differences:
- A program focus is usually inflexible. It has set times and ways of doing things. A people focus is adjustable and customizable.

-A program focus leads to a failure to reexamine why programs exist and if they are effective. A people focus is by nature flexible and adaptable to the particular people involved.

- A program focus measures success by number of participants and smoothness in operation. A people focus measures success by the impact something has upon people's lives.

We live in a constantly changing world. With the Internet, more and more employers are offering flex time and the ability to work at home. Degrees are offered entirely online. Help on most any topic is available day or night through Google. And yet, most churches all "do church" the way that they always have. Set times for every meeting, with no alternatives. No help available for spiritual formation outside of these times. A curriculum that was made up in another state, for another community, for another era. People are drafted for ministries which they have no gifting in, and the very life is sucked out of them by serving for long periods filling someone else's agenda or a program that was begun 50 years ago whose original aim was forgotten . . . . (I ran that sentence on on purpose).

Being people focused requires more intimate time spent with people. It requires listening to where they are in life and helping them grow in the areas where the Holy Spirit is prompting them. It is hard to think of Jesus being program driven, as most every conversation that he had was uniquely, well, personal!

What do you think of the program-driven vs. people-driven models?

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Comment by James Nored on April 28, 2009 at 4:28pm
Tony, this book is available as a hardback on Amazon. Here is the link.
Comment by Tony Whittaker on April 28, 2009 at 11:31am
Amazon are only selling this as a Kindle ebook. Is it available as paper book too?


Comment by James Nored on April 27, 2009 at 9:53pm
Hi Todd. Thanks for the comments. Great point about not judging success by the length of a ministry. Yes, we need to have well done funerals for ministries that no longer are effective or to simply make room for more effective ministries. This is a necessary part of helping people let go in a positive way, just like real funerals. Thanks for the encouragemen on the blog.

How was the conference? I really wanted to go and would have enjoyed hooking up. We'll have to find another time. Good to hear from you.
Comment by Todd A. Spencer on April 27, 2009 at 9:03pm
Hi James! Thanks for the lead on this book. I'm sure I will be getting it soon. I appreciate your comments too. One of the things I'm starting to re-define is success in terms of length of time something is around. For so long, we've only seen something as successful if it's around for a long time. This isn't necessarily true. Some ministry opportunities may have short life-spans but still have success in being used by Christ's Spirit in the world. The hard part is leading folks all the way through the "death" of that they can find another connection point with Christ...More on this some time soon... Anyway, keep up this blog brother!
God's Peace in All Ways,
Todd Spencer
Comment by Stennis Johnson on April 25, 2009 at 3:06pm
Pam posted a comment to this article on your blog that doesn't show up on this site... I believe her thoughts are well worth considering by all of your readers so I'm posting it here as well.....

Program-driven churches have only become wide-spread in the last 35-40 years. Prior to that, ALL churches were people-driven. You may have never experienced people-driven churches since this time-frame encompasses your entire lifetime, but I grew up prior to program-driven churches and well remember that churches were people-driven “back then”. We didn’t have youth programs, or visitation programs, or any of the other programs that we have seen come and go over the years...instead, individual Christians saw the need and filled it. The programs that eventually were developed were not all bad...many good things were accomplished....but over time, “people” stopped working on the needs they saw because the “program” would take care of it.

Through the years, I have watched as more and more programs were put into place in the congregations I have been a part of, with no reassessment as to effectiveness, as you correctly observe. I also noted that as more programs were developed, less people were involved...because the work appeared to be someone else’s job.

“Back then” the curriculum was the Bible...just the Word of is timeless and applicable to any culture...regardless of where the specific “lesson outline/plan” came from. Perhaps I was blessed by growing up in an area of Dallas and in a congregation that did a good job of preaching/teaching God’s word and in serving each other and others in the community. That may be why I take offense at the blanket statements that are thrown around today in regard to the way it “used to be”. We may need to re-focus our methods by incorporating current technology, but the curriculum should be God’s Word. I fear that many of our problems within the church today stems from ignorance of the Scriptures. That is easily fixed by refocusing our studies to God’s Word (the Bible) and away from man’s word (the latest book that was written).

When people study God’s Word...the Bible...the only instruction manual God gave us...they “get it” IS understandable...but it does need to be studied to be understood, as does any subject. The change we need to make is to become more like the Bereans in Acts 17, searching the scriptures daily to see if what we are hearing/reading is so. Study of His word shows that we each have individual responsibility to use our individual gifts to serve...both inside and outside of the church.

It appears to me that people like Reggie McNeal, and others in the emerging church movement, are critical of existing programs, but are seeking to replace old ‘programs’ with new ones--theirs...only they don’t always call them ‘programs’. However, if you enlist people to start a study group at Starbucks or join with Habitat for Humanity, etc, are you not encouraging them to be in that particular “program”? In McNeal’s article “What is the Missional Church” (posted at ) , he states that the difference with a ‘missional program’ is the “starting point” which he describes as beginning with people’s ‘declared needs’. I would suggest that every program begins with a need of the are the ones sanctioned by a “missional church” any different?

I am not suggesting that these things are bad....they actually are good ways for Christians to do good things and to be an influence in our communities....however these should be ‘tools’, not ‘solutions’ or nothing will be changed. Our purpose should always be to lead others to a knowledge of and obedience to the Gospel. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost...and in doing so, he fed, healed, and comforted them. We each need to do the same, remembering that in order to be like Him, our purpose is to lead people to salvation. Everyone that benefited from being fed, healed, etc did not choose to follow Him, but he ministered to them as should we.

Many of the books/writings of thosein the emerging church movement...McNeal, McLaren, Hirsch, Kimball, etc...indicate that their authors either have misunderstandings of Biblical words/principles or that they are seeking to redefine those word/principles...and even invent words that seem to have ambiguous meanings at times. These invented words are similar enough to commonly understood words that the hearer assumes one thing while something entirely different is meant....’missional’ is one of those is not in the dictionary yet. After reading a number of articles by the aforementioned men and about the emerging church that they promote, it is clear to me that what they mean by ‘missional’ is NOT what I read in Scripture to be the Christian’s ‘mission’ here on earth as modeled by Christ and the early church.

In McNeal’s article, “What is the Missional Church”, he does not seem to understand that the ‘church’ and the ‘kingdom’ are the same....and he states that “missional Christians” are turning ‘church’ from a noun (“I go to that church”) to a verb (“I church at Starbucks”). This indicates a gross misunderstanding of the church in the New Testament. While these authors may shine a spotlight on some of the problems we need to correct, I hesitate to look to any of them as authorities/models/mentors on the subject when their understanding of basics is flawed.

I would encourage any reader here to investigate this movement (emerging/missional church)’s stated purposes, leaders, etc...and not to accept it’s teaching simply because it “sounds good”. There are numerous troubling aspects to this movement as it concerns the restructuring of the Church and the church’s mission (i.e. the Christian’s mission) here on earth. Do as the Bereans did, search the Scriptures to see if these things are so.


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