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Most congregational leaders – when seeking to adapt their congregations to current realities and in order to bring in new members and/or create a sustainable financial situation – ask what new programs they should add or what new outreach they should do. As part of these generative conversations, it is also critical to ask the question: “What should we stop doing?”
In order to free up resources to do new things, you must either raise more funds, train more volunteers, or find something to stop doing. Simply layering more work upon overburdened clergy, staff, or volunteers won’t work – and by narrowing your focus, you raise the level of importance of the new initiatives, making them more likely to succeed.
Here is some guidance on how to make the decision about what to stop.
The data required to evaluate your offerings doesn’t exist in the mind or laptop of any one person at your congregation. In order to properly assess what you do, you’ll need to establish a process and gather a task force of people committed to trying it out.
This task force will have to be willing to take a leap of faith and understand that you’re experimenting with a new tool and a new way of thinking. In fact, you may want to make a pact with the group that, in the first year, you’re only going to use it to learn; in year two - once you’ve gotten more experience with the tool – you can use it to decide what to stop doing.
When creating said task force, make sure to include someone from your budget and finance team, and someone from your clergy/professional staff (if you have them). Overall, the group should be populated with people who best know the work being evaluated.
In order to decide what to stop doing, the task force should choose consistent criteria for examining your current programs and services. Choose from among the following criteria, rating each on a three-point scale (view a full rubric of these criteria, including rating instructions, in The Tent); the programs with the lowest scores based on these criteria will be candidates for stopping.
Using a set of evaluative measures will help you effectively collect a lot of information from many people in an organized and clinical way. That said, no evaluative tool can tell 100 percent of the story; eventually, you will need to use your judgement, informed by the data you’ve gathered. This could mean assessing and analyzing the data you receive, as well as adjusting your evaluative tool and adding criteria you hadn’t thought of before.
Deciding to stop doing something isn’t always easy. Most likely, all of your offerings are adding some value to someone – which means someone is going to be upset that you’re cutting their program.
A few things that you can do to help your case:
Remember: It may sometimes be difficult, but ultimately, you’re doing this for the good of the congregation and its ability to redirect resources to priority areas.
In the past, I’ve written about including new measures for success in your thinking. This process for deciding what to stop integrates the typical measures of congregational success (budget and attendance) with the new more mission driven measures (relationship, impact, and meaning), attempting to find a balance between the two. Resources available to congregations are limited, and clergy, professional, and volunteer time is precious. If you’re going to lead your congregation to try new things, you must stop doing something else. A strong process for deciding what to stop will help make tough decisions both easier to make and easier to implement.