My favorite part of our annual state fair is the products pavilion, where vendors hawk the world’s greatest mop, Japanese steak knifes that never dull, and other gizmos I will never buy. I recently had a similar experience while passing through the exhibition hall at a Christian conference, but instead of encountering 30 vendors expounding on the wonders of ShamWow towels, I passed several displays of ministries attempting to raise financial and spiritual support for nearly identical endeavors: seminaries with similar theological commitments competing for the same students, missions organizations with parallel philosophies promoting similar projects to the same pool of potential participants, campus ministries with comparable mission statements and methodologies contending over the same body of students.
Such redundancy spreads thin the already limited resources available to Christian ministries and splinters members of the body of Christ that could accomplish more for the kingdom of God if they simply worked together. But this redundancy might be avoided if those starting new ministries would simply ask three key questions before they begin.
Is this ministry even needed?
Redundant ministries are often created out of a sincere devotion to Christ and the desire to make a difference. But they may also lack awareness that other ministries may already be seeking to fill that same need. Consider how many vacation Bible schools use the same curriculum for outreaches in the same community on the same week of summer.
One church in Virginia began planning a vacation Bible school only to discover that another church a quarter mile up the road was using the same curriculum at the same time of the morning during the same week of June. To avoid redundancy, the first church changed the focus of its VBS from children to special-needs teens and adults.
Ministry enthusiasts must ask if the church as a whole might be better served if they chose a different field of focus or volunteered with an existing ministry.
Is the ministry niche restrictive?
Nearly every ministry strives to be unique, but the quest for being one-of-a-kind often results in redundant ministries that could easily be combined. Most people would be dumbfounded to find a soup kitchen that only served Hispanic women. So why do we think it’s okay to start Bible studies for niche groups? Such pigeonholing assumes diverse groups cannot be served effectively together and leads to redundancy as multiple ministries serve a given group of people when one would be sufficient.
Rather than seeing language as a permanent barrier, one church in Wisconsin chose to partner with a local Chinese congregation. The two churches hold two services in the same building, one in English and one in Chinese, with the English-speaking church offering combined Sunday school classes and youth group for second- and third-generation Chinese teens. These two churches could have remained in their niches, but partnering allowed them to share building expenses and learn that language does not prevent them from sharing in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Ministry leaders must ask if the ministry might better spread the gospel by expanding the parameters and enlarging the focus of ministry.
Is this ministry narcissistic?
Many redundant ministries believe they can do ministry better than those already at work in that field. In other cases, the ministry leader declines to partner with another ministry when it means someone else will be making decisions. Pride may cause new ministries to marginalize those who already live and minister within the target field, or more established ministries to ignore the newer out of a “we were here first” mentality. Such superiority complexes prohibit partnerships and entrench redundancy.
But consider the payoff of humble partnership. At the Amsterdam conference convened by Billy Graham in 2000 to promote evangelism, several different ministries put their heads together at Table 71. The result was a joint effort of dozens of different ministries, large and small, all cooperating together to reach the last unreached people groups on earth. By necessity, pride had to be swallowed, territorialism abandoned, niches destroyed, and passions partnered, all for the sake of the gospel. That’s the glory of partnering in ministry.
As many ministry leaders across the globe realize, if they will examine their motives and mission fields, partnerships can abound, redundancies can be reduced, resources can be shared, and the kingdom of God can expand to the ends of the earth.