Chokepoints in a Congregation’s Ministry

In the past year, our congregation has nearly doubled in size – in theory. I say “in theory” because while the number of people who consider Bedford Road as “their” congregation has doubled, the average attendance of a worship gathering has only increased by about 20%.

How is that possible?

It is simple. The leadership was not prepared. I was not prepared.

We asked God to do something incredible in our midst. We prayed for it, and we sought to see His vision for this congregation. We saw it and we pursued it. We continue to see it and continue to pursue it.

But we did not plan to expand with it. The elders watched God bring people to His church, and without realizing it we were very quickly overwhelmed with the task in front of us. We continued operating at the scale we had started with and the size of the congregation quickly outscaled our thinking.

There is an unfortunate principle of human thinking that kicks in when there is no plan – passive participation.

Several things happen in passive participation:

  1. Communication among leaders breaks down. Leaders at certain levels continue to talk and communicate, but the vertical connections (elders to ministry leaders and vice versa, volunteers to leaders and on) break down. Expectations aren’t measured or met because no one is watching.
  2. Volunteers revert to ‘the way we used to’. This happens in lots of scenarios, but when volunteers are not constantly kept in sync with the leaders and vision, they fall back on the last stable way of doing things. It does not matter if that last way was last week or ten years ago.
  3. Important tasks get lost in the shuffle. Things that should be done get put off, and before too long get forgotten.
  4. Everyone gets frustrated. Leaders get frustrated with volunteers. Recruiters cannot find anyone willing to help build ministry. Congregants, who are acting only passively, wonder who is “supposed to” be doing whatever it is they notice is not being done.
  5. Leadership becomes chokepoints for ministry. There is a narrowing of ‘responsibility’ to a handful of leaders who are overwhelmed by all the responsibilities thrust upon them.
  6. Other leaders feel ineffective and unnecessary. The chokepoint leaders unconsciously squeeze other leaders out of their responsibilities.

This last two points is something I have started to notice – in my inbox, my text messages and in conversations. Although our congregation has a plurality of elders and a very egalitarian approach to leadership, we have developed serious chokepoints.

Once, when I was a teenager, my father made the mistake of taking the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River. Right before the Tappan Zee, three major highways merge. About 10 lanes of traffic become three. We sat in traffic for several hours, inching along when we were moving at all. It was painful. Some of us had to go to the bathroom for the better part of the delay.

We learned our lesson. To this day, we go about 15 miles out of our way to cross the Hudson at the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge a few miles northwest. There is never traffic on that bridge, and we wave as we pass the flow of traffic headed to Tappan Zee.

A chokepoint in ministry is any person who has too many flows of information and/or responsibility meeting in his or her person. When one person is the only one with all the information, talents or authority to act in a particular ministry, that ministry will be restricted to that person’s capacity.

Chokepoints can be pastors, but they can also be volunteers who consciously or unconsciously have locked a facet of ministry down to their personality or position.

The only answer to chokepoints is to open up other lanes of action. This is difficult work because chokepoints usually happen in vital places. Sometimes it even requires shutting things down for awhile until we have the proper people in place for proper flow.

In order to engage our growing congregation in the vision Jesus has given to us, we need to break up the chokepoints. This is a challenging task.

We need to get back to ministering at capacity, spread across the board rather than single chokepoint people overloading in trying to manage everything coming at them (and that includes me).

So, how does a pastor stop being a chokepoint on Jesus’ ministry in the church? Well, here are a few things I am planning on doing.

  1. I am putting together a list of things I do on a regular basis that do not pertain to the ministry of God’s Word.
  2. I am putting together a list of people with known abilities.
  3. I am matching people with tasks and planning to meet with these people.
  4. I am setting up a schedule for meeting with existing ministry teams – children’s ministry, women’s ministry, financial team, etc.
  5. I am making a new policy of not making decisions on Sundays (that’s when people come to me asking for me to make decisions).

The plan, for me at least, is to take all these chokepoint areas in my own role(s) in the congregation and give them to people. This is tough because that means I have to communicate an aspect of vision – something that is sitting in my head. It also means I have to ask people to make sacrifices. It means I have to focus on overseeing rather than implementing the ministry of our congregation.

A few weeks ago, I told a friend of mine that I wasn’t sure if I could evolve to meet the challenges of our congregation. Over the past couple of weeks, I have had to spend a lot of time asking God what he wants changed. This has taken quite a bit of repentance on my part – for my lack of faith that he would make his vision a reality among us.

What about you? Are you ready to be a part of breaking up the chokepoints? Ready to break out of the passive participation and become an active participant?

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