Why Redundant Ministries Can Harm Our Mission

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.

  • David

    This kind of a focus is long overdue. Lately I’ve grieved, but with a slight joy, when I’ve heard of this or that ministry closing down because I know that the type of ministry is already met in so many ways, and such and such ministry closing down will only empower those other ministries to do more things more effectively for more people. While we may preach “we need to be of one mind” we neglect to consider the idea of being also of one ministry since we are of one mind. Instead we do our own thing due to disagreements concerning minutia. To paraphrase Luke 6 understanding I’m not exactly quoting scripture: If you love those who agree with you about every little detail, what good is that to you? Do not the sinners do the same? So why do we think we’re doing God’s work when we don’t even accept our own brothers?

  • http://www.fccbradford.org Danny

    I will be forwarding these helpful questions to our Deaconate & Standing Committees, as we seek to move forward with a Jesus Presence in our community. There are so many good congregations in our little neck of the woods.
    Thank you for this post.

    • http://joyfield.org Ian Smith

      Danny, I just happened to click on your name and realized that your church, First Christian Church of BradforD MA, is where the ABCFM, America’s first mission sending body was organized over two hundred years ago! What an incredible heritage! It is such a blessing to know that your church is still faithfully centered on the Gospel after all these years!

      I cannot even imagine the tens of millions of lives that have been impacted by the faithfulness of your little church over the centuries–one of the books that has impacted me greatly is the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah, a young Hawaiian man who was discipled by Samuel J Mills, one of the young men at the Haystack Prayer Meeting, and the one who challenged the congregational churches in New England to begin the ABCFM. I’ll have to re-read the book some time soon to see if your church is mentioned in his memoirs.

  • Andrew S.

    The usual reason for so many similar ministries is because of “doctrinal issues.” Usually not the truly important ones mind you, but the second-hand things that in the end will work themselves out one way or another by the Holy Spirit. Paedo-baptists and credo-baptists, calvinists and arminians, continuationists and cessationists need to set these things aside! Rather than starting a new ministry, join arms with one that’s already there.

    I began my Christian walk an arminian. I was saved by God’s grace. Years later now I find myself a calvinist (though I really don’t want to be seen as an “ist” of any sort). The Holy Spirit will guide each of us into knowledge and understanding of God.

    • Ryan

      I fully and completely agree. I think ecumenicism is one of the most important steps to take in overcoming redundancy. We need to accept that people whose doctrine we disagree with are, for the most part, just as capable as we are of preaching the Gospel faithfully and powerfully. Ask a missions organization why they’re going to a country that already receives a lot of focus and they’ll say “Well, none of the other organizations there are evangelical.” Ask a church planter why they’re setting up shop in a neighbourhood that’s already got two churches and they’ll say “Oh, well, those churches are Lutheran and Anglican so, you know, not exactly Christian.”

      Beliefs like these lead to thousands of different ministries targeting the same people because we don’t trust other Christians. We’re worried that if those filthy paedobaptists or Christus Victor types get their hands on people they’ll all be deceived and never know the True Faithâ„¢ and suffer an eternity in hell.

      Now, there are some doctrinal disagreements that are cause for concern. If the only ministries in the area are groups who actively deny aspects of the Nicene Creed, for example (i.e. trinitarian theology, salvation through Christ, etc) then yes, there may be a need for someone else to step in. But if that’s not the case, then…

      Of course, our non-Protestant brethren will always be the most controversial part of this conversation. However, while I disagree with no small amount of Roman Catholic theology, some of the most ardent preachers of the Gospel that I know are devout Catholics (and, contrary to popular belief, they do not preach salvation apart from Christ). I’m not on board with everything they say, but at the same time, when I hear missionaries talking about leading a group to evangelize to a Catholic community so that they can hear about Jesus, I hesitate. I know that Catholicism, even moreso than Protestantism or EO, is very much a cultural and familial thing, and that there are millions of people who identify as Catholics who have never even opened a Bible or attended mass outside of Christmas and Easter. Still, it makes me a little uncomfortable.

      I suppose the crux of my argument is this: A lack of ecumenicism has led to a church that is more focused on sheep-stealing (i.e. taking Christians from other churches and building them up with “sound doctrine”) than on reaching the lost. And that’s not our mission.

      • David

        It really is a tough line to walk. It’s easy to say the things you’ve said but it’s much harder to practice it. What happens when we are part of one of these churches and an uprising occurs because the pastor, who is not a paedo-baptist, is confronted by a couple who wants to have their baby baptized into God’s covenant people? We must remember that not every member 1. practices their Christianity the same and 2. is mature and able to handle disagreement about things that are genuine issues, however not stuff that leads people away from Christ. I do think that we need to be of one mind and one ministry, however, I do think that there is room for different churches to exist where there is a unity about both primary and secondary issues, whereas tertiary issues are not necessarily agreed upon. And even though we may not worship in the same building where we attend due to the fact that we can speak in tongues there (for example) as opposed to the church down the street where you may be rebuked for doing so, our churches can still partake in the same ministry endeavors together. When there is division over primary issues (such as salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone, deity of Christ, trinity), there must be separation. When there is division over secondary issues (paedo-baptism, cessationism, eschatology – still very important, but not first things), it is still possible to be of one church, however that depends on how the people work together, or else it will naturally end up divided anyway after a harmful fiasco. Churches that divide over tertiary issues (music, dress code, bible translations, extra-biblical issues) are the ones that really need to get it together, and I think this category accounts for most of the redundant ministries. First things first, we must do all we can to walk in grace, love our brothers, and walk in Christ’s welcome of sinners, of which we are all party.

        • Ryan

          Yes indeed. This is a very good point, things become much more sticky in reality. While it would be utterly reprehensible for a complementarian or egalitarian to accuse one another of not being followers of Christ, the two will certainly have difficulty worshiping together under one roof – how many complementarians will sit contentedly under a sermon from a woman pastor? How long will egalitarians stick around knowing that women are not allowed to preach?

          However, I would still feel uneasy about starting a new ministry to directly contradict someone else’s theology. Going into a neighbourhood and saying “They’ve got a church, yes, but have they got a credobaptist church?” isn’t really my thing. I feel as though we ought to be going to the unchurched first, before worrying about members of denominations we disagree with.

          • David

            I share your uneasiness concerning starting a new ministry to contradict someone else’s theology (of second or third things). My brother-in-law is a pastor of a church where a KJV-Only church opened just down the street for that very reason, in a very small town. Just think of what they could do if they just joined hands in ministry and worked together for the cause of Christ! But no, you can’t help each other because, even though you still use the KJV, you don’t think it’s the ONLY true inspired version so, well, we can’t acknowledge you as brothers. This is one of the many reasons the people of God are not taken seriously about their faith and ministry is not what it should be.

        • http://hangtogetherblog.com Kyle Ferguson

          I agree with you, David, about the theological differences that sometime lead to division. My greater concern is theologically similar ministries or ministries where theology shouldn’t really be an issue, and yet there is still division rather than partnership. I know of a denomination that has two identical ministries. They even share office space! Why? Still haven’t figured that one out.

          • David

            Which would make things even worse. However, I do think the greater problem is tertiary issues dividing the church, exposing the fact that the Church has no grace or love to begin with for their own people….how are we going to share the love and Grace of Christ to those who are not even Christ’s if we cannot live according to it with those who ARE? We merely find ourselves preaching a Christ we don’t really agree with.

      • Darren Blair

        Something that not a lot of people realize is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (re: the “Mormons”) and the Seventh-Day Adventists have been pooling their resources in regards to their respective welfare and humanitarian aid systems.

        The LDS faith has a logistics infrastructure that the Adventists can’t match on their own, and the Adventists are able to produce certain food items far more cheaply and in larger quantities than what the LDS faith can do with its own farms.

        So in exchange for Adventist-made food products to supplement their own welfare offerings, the LDS faith helps handle the Adventists’ logistics.

  • http://joyfield.org Ian Smith

    There is some truth to the above blog post–but also a vast oversimplification.

    While attending Wheaton College for my MA a few years back, I found out that there was only two campus ministries operating at the College of Dupage, the largest community college in the nation. Neither of these had a full-time staff person. The combined efforts of both student ministries probably effected the lives of 50 students out of tens of thousands.

    The truth is, that at many colleges in our countries, the efforts of Atheists, Muslims and the LGBT community far outstrip those of Christian churches and parachurch organizations. I would love to see some healthy competition between Christians in reaching the lost on our campuses.

    As many scholars and secular economists will attest, competition drives up quality and drives down price. Competition and choice is good–I would rather see ten thriving student ministries (competing with each other for students and resources) at a college rather than one mediocre one. This has been one of the keys to the success of Christianity in America (ask Os Guinness how this compares with State Churches in Europe for example).

    The diversity of denominations and the competition between churches in the USA has been a blessing in disguise. Let’s spur each other on to be better at reaching the lost and sharing the Gospel with this fallen world.

    As someone preparing for missions among an unreached people group, the Japanese, I know of dozens of missions organizations and denominations that have a foothold in that nation. However, we are sending less missionaries than at any point in the last four decades. I would love to see some new people put skin in the game in Japan, and addition resources from the groups that have been there for a long time. The Japanese are one of the two largest unreached people groups in the world, and are becoming more unreached! We’re losing the beachhead we have in that nation, and maybe we need a little more competition for resources, missionaries and territory in that nation.

    • David

      It sounds like more of what you want is more people reaching people. If we go in with the mindset of outdoing this denomination or that denomination, are we really keeping Christ first or are we just marketing out way of seeing things as opposed to their way of seeing things (concerning second things, not first things – warring with false teaching SHOULD happen). The Body of Christ was meant to work in unity as one representative Body, not work against each other for the sake of sport. A house divided cannot stand, remember? The only blessing that denominational veil has presented is the opportunity to practice loving others even if they are not part of your camp, just like the Jewish converts had to do when the Gentiles were grafted in.

      • http://joyfield.org Ian Smith

        “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” -Phil 1:15-18

        David, denominations have done a significant amount of good for the cause of Christ–some of them have had incredible legacies of mission sending, cooperative ministry and advancement of the Kingdom of God.

        We live in a generation that oftentimes only sees denominations as ineffective, inefficient, monolithic bureaucracies that emphasize disunity rather than unity. However as Plato said, ‘the abuse does not nullify the proper use.’

        Denominations are much more effective at planting new churches and sending missionaries than any other system that has been developed–nor that I foresee being developed in the future. Like-minded churches working together to advance common goals and advance the Kingdom.

        We live in a culture that is very suspect of “big government,” especially in Christian circles–we are hyper-individualistic, hyper-libertarian. This however is not the picture of Christian unity–in fact, the diversity of Denominations that existed in the 19th century were a better picture of Christian unity than the mess we have ourselves in today. At least there the lines were clearly defined–yet there was broad cooperation among Christians of almost all Protestant stripes in the cause of missions and the promotion of social good.

        Now we have a cesspool of mediocre non-denominational churches–whose only unity is an occasional pastoral luncheon or church softball league. I’ll take the good old denomination any day.

        Now that was the horse you were beating. My point was to say that the diversity of different Christian traditions in America and their competition for the lost is a good thing.

        Anyone who has been involved in church planting knows that many church plants don’t succeed, and many churches die. In order to continue the same level of Christian saturation in any given place there needs to be a constant planting of new churches and a constant making of new disciples. Some churches that are territorial or have established ministries can see these ‘upstarts’ as a threat–the same can be said for established campus ministries, local ministries etc. especially if they have a similar purpose or focus.

        However the planting of the new is good for both the new and the old–especially if it gets older more established churches to get serious about making new disciples (something that older churches are notoriously ineffective at).

        Sometimes working together means doing significantly less work than working independently. That is why I was so surprised to read this post on TGC–who is vetting these articles these days? Anyone who has spent any time working within the missions community/church planting community knows the dynamics at play; without a constant planting of new ministries there will be eventually stagnation and death.

        God called us to be fruitful–we can be unified where it counts, the Gospel, even if we are dis-unified in practice (praxis). Not every church is going to look the same, be the same, not every ministry, no matter how similar is going to reach the same people. But in the case of church planting, as in the case of many other types of ministry, the more the better.

        • http://www.harvestgainesville.org Hayden Norris

          Denominations are good but your view of non-denominational churches is a bit of an oversimplification. Many non-denominational churches have started networks that are planting churches and sending missionaries.(Acts 29 and Harvest Bible Fellowship come to mind) They are not all the unorganized mess you paint them to be.

          In the south there are people that will only go to a Southern Baptist Church. My hope is that they find the best church to plug into and use their gifts. I heartily agree with your statement “My point was to say that the diversity of different Christian traditions in America and their competition for the lost is a good thing.” The analogy I use is that the variety of churches is like ice cream. Pick the flavor but make sure it is REAL ice cream

          • http://www.joyfield.org Ian Smith

            Hayden, I admit that I have not been satisfied with the above comments since I wrote them–I argued against this article’s oversimplification with some of my own.

            However, networks like Acts 29 and Harvest Bible Fellowship are really proto-denominations. John Wesley never set out to create a denomination, but was a faithful Anglican until the day of his death–he was still warm in the grave when his successors split from the Anglican communion and established the Methodist denomination.

            John was unwittingly creating a denomination, but could never own up to it. I would love to see Harvest and Acts 29 clarify themselves on this. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc.

            I would contend that there really is no such thing as a non-Denominational church–but really there are denominations and micro-denominations. You have cooperative groups of churches working together, and then single churches that are a law unto themselves, and a trend we are seeing in American Christianity is that now many Christians don’t even think that the church is necessary, i.e. the microscopic-denomination, every man doing what is right in his own mind.

            The diversity of Christian churches in America is good–and the ice cream thing is an OK analogy. But I think an analogy that makes sense to people would be comparing State Churches with Communistic production systems or Big Box Stores. Monopolies (like state-controlled production in Communist countries) lead to low quality and malaise. That is why in America we bust monopolies–because competition between companies is good for business and the consumer. Diversity means better products, more niche products, meeting the needs of consumers, entrepreneurship etc.

            When ten new churches are planted in a place, only a few will take root and survive, but the quality ones will float to the surface, and others will sink. Even a good church can only expect one or two generations of longevity–each successive generation must buy in, and the truth is, there isn’t much president for that. Old churches tend to be small and struggling because they lack the momentum of new churches, and because they have failed to maintain successive generations within the church and build on them. Churches and ministries are constantly dying, and so they need to be constantly planted–and buy in to a new business is much easier than re-inventing an old one, the same is true for churches.

        • David

          I suppose your specification is a bit more agreeable, however, I am not so sure that without constant planting of new rival ministries is what Christ had in mind when He gave the apostles the great commission. When Paul went on his missionary journies, he would plant a church, set up elders within that church, and then go plant another church in another city. His goal was for each of those individual city churches to reach out and win that city. Of course the world is a different place today, howbeit, are the foundational truths behind how the Church is supposed to work Biblically any different? If what you say is absolutely true, then why wasn’t Paul setting up rival churches if he knew that would win more people? What you are saying is one thing – a sociological conclusion. However, unfounded in Scripturally, and that is what the issue is with American soul-winners. We seem to have more passion about methodology than the Gospel of Christ, and justify the idolatry by saying “without a good method I can’t win people to Christ.” Which in and of itself is unbiblical. I’m not sure why you find any satisfaction being associated with “The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” Sure there is joy in the Gospel being preached either way, but shouldn’t you be more concerned about preaching from good will? Paul was not commending the rivals. He was commending the Gospel while condemning the motives of the rivals. I’m really not sure what you meant to point out with that verse as it pertains to supporting your point. More could be said about the real problems with missions, starting with missions being functionally wrong (extra-biblical at best, unbiblical at worst) from the very point of ordination, fund-raising, and deputation, not even talking about methodology, but I suppose that is for a different post on a different article.

          • http://www.joyfield.org Ian Smith

            David, I happen to be one of those ‘unbiblical’ missionaries in the deputation process. I have actually found the process of fund-raising one of the most strongest faith building experiences of my life. The Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus depended on the support of others–Paul at one point in the book of Acts worked as a tent-maker, but the truth is that he was supported in a diversity of ways; including direct partnerships with churches (read Philippians). He even appealed for support to churches that he did not plant (read Romans).

            Acts is a narrative book–and while we can learn a lot from Paul’s church planting methodology, it is no prescriptive. Paul planted churches in each city that he visited, but it is clear that even in these cities there were multiple household fellowships (i.e. greet the church that meets in the house of). These churches were not monolithic, but instead already started to multiply in the cities that Paul planted them. Paul’s letters were addressed to the church in a city, but that term is more of a plurality–the letter was going to be read in multiple smaller congregations and meetings.

            There hasn’t been unity in the church since Acts 2. The first problem in the church was a disunity between Hebraic Jewish Christians and Hellenistic Jewish Christians. The leadership in Jerusalem established a separate leadership structure (the deacons) to care for the needs of the Hellenistic Jewish Christians; they found compromise by raising up leaders among the ethnic congregation to care for the needs of the minority group in a way that the majority group could not. The unity was around the Gospel, but structures and methodology were flexible. You throw around the word ‘idolatry’ and ‘unbiblical’ very unwisely.

            • David

              I wasn’t saying deputation is in and of itself unbiblical. Just pointing out the way that it is done GENERALLY is not really the intended method, but I am not going into detail, I merely included them for effect. Now I’m thinking I should have refrained for the sake that the more direct comments are discussed. Each aspect can find roots down to imperfections in the church at some point. Some good things are only as good as a crutch is. Useful and good due to inadequacies alone. A good result here and there does not justify the means. It’s a fundamentally flawed form of reasoning.
              I understand that it’s not a prescriptive, but one would do well to notice the wisdom thereof, considering the Apostles where some of the wisest men, and closest to Jesus and familiar with and passionate about His commission, that have ever lived. Just like the wisdom of appointing the men to handle the division in the church in Acts 6. You seem to be founding your conclusions primarily on the wisdom of commercialism and then interpreting the Bible in light of it. I would beg you to seek the Unity that Christ commanded us to seek rather than to capitalize on the weakness that comes via division. Perhaps there’s a reason that churches typically only last a couple generations and that out of several churches planted, only the “best” rise to the top. Perhaps the reasons behind this are due to a fundamental flaw in the philosophies upon which they were built.
              Instead of buying out and steamrolling churches that have issues, perhaps our love for God’s people should lead us to edify them, not overcome them. Sometimes God’s people are the ones in greatest need of His salvation. Maybe we should be reaching out to these churches rather than seeking to out-do them. Instead of leaving it for another, rather reform it. Instead of preaching against it, preach to it. Instead of reaching out our hand against it, we should put our hands out to uplift it. I’m not saying “go and reform the catholic church as a whole.” I’m saying we should consider our true brothers as co-heirs with Christ of the Kingdom, and treat them likewise. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your ideology seems to be more to take advantage of them. It’s good for money-making business, but it’s not good for disciple-making business. you can’t teach your people one thing and do another. I really just hope I’m greatly misunderstanding you. Please tell me if that’s the case up front because I want that to be the case.

    • http://hangtogetherblog.com Kyle Ferguson

      Hey Ian, I couldn’t agree more. I would argue that there is true need at College of DuPage for the current ministries, and more. On the other hand, I know of a similar situation at other smaller universities where two, sometimes three ministries compete for students (and they all have full-time staffing!) Whether or not there is true need is what I would like to see ministries consider before starting new endeavors.

      • http://www.joyfield.org Ian Smith

        Kyle, a ‘smaller’ college or university still has at least 2-3000 people. The largest Christian campus groups in the nation maybe have a membership of 1-300 students per chapter. Even if there were three very successful and capable campus ministries at a small college, at most they may only be able to minister to 800 students. If you consider that a few local churches may be reaching out to the students, you could probably vouch for another 100. That still leaves 2000 or more students at a small college without a ministry to plug into. In church planting we term a place churched when it is 1 church for every 500 students; by the same measure, we could consider a campus sufficiently reached if there is one full time campus minister per five hundred students.

        The truth is, I cannot think of a college that I have ever visited with that kind of ratio–in Chicagoland there are over two-hundred churches, and maybe a dozen full-time campus ministers in the entire area! Many revival movements and missions movements have started on college campuses, and one area where we could invest and see a profit to the entire church would be in additional campus ministry.

        Not to mention, not all campus ministries are equal–vibrant campus ministries of yesteryear are in disrepair or have chased after every wind of doctrine and lost their core focus. InterVarsity is a pale excuse for the theologically robust evangelistic group it was in yesteryear–most local chapters are more interested in social justice than in sharing the Gospel. CRU and Navigators have been struggling nation-wide. Even if a campus were to have a IVF chapter, a BSU, a KA, a CRU, Navigators etc they would still only be reaching a small fraction of the student population.

        The truth is we probably need to establish new gospel-focused student groups. We need to send out more full-time ministers to our campuses (at a local college where I am now, the director of a student group retired after 30 years… for the last decade he has had a hard time connecting with students because of his age, the writing was already on the wall).

        Campus ministry is just one example of this. Just saying that they have ministries on campus is not enough–are they effective? are they Christ centered? do they have a vision & ambition for reaching the lost? how is their leadership? how is their organization doing nationally? are they raising up leaders for the next generation?

        Before deciding when a ministry is redundant, we need to know whether what is being done already is fruitful and healthy.

    • http://www.knowableword.com Peter Krol

      I agree, Ian. The post does well to challenge pride and strife and narcissistic theologizing. But there is certainly a health that can come from good clean competition. In addition, most organizations have a limited capacity for effectiveness. I’d rather see two VBSes in the same week, that each could take 100 kids, than one VBS that could take only 125 or 150. Such “redundancy” can make a bigger dent in the end, especially if done well.

      • http://www.joyfield.org Ian Smith

        Peter, I’m glad someone else sees the faulty logic of this post. Partnership is great when it leads to more effective more far-reaching ministry; however, sometimes partnership can diminish the fruitfulness of those working together.

        Small churches are significantly more effective at reaching the lost than mega-churches. Mega-churches have resources that can be leveraged to do big things for the Kingdom, but they lack the flexibility that smaller churches have. This dynamic plays out in many different kinds of ministries.

        As you stated, if two churches have the same VBS in the same week they can each reach at most 100-125 children. Most cities have thousands of children, if these two churches were to partner their resources and ministered to 185 children they would actually be doing less than they would be doing if they did the VBS on their own reaching 250. Ten church-plants with 75 members may each see an additional 10 people come to faith per church per year, while a church with 750 members may only see 30 people make new decisions of faith in a year. Ten churches means ten pastors, ten church secretaries, ten treasurers–it means redundancy… but it also generally means more effectiveness, 100 people coming to faith per year rather than 30. (i’m fudging the numbers, but there are actually statistics to back this up–see for example Ed Stetzer or Craig Ott’s book on Global Church Planting).

        If there is theological compromise/pastoral failure at the church of 750, the fall-out effects 750 people negatively. Likewise, if the same happens at even one or two of the churches of 75, the impact is significantly lessened.

        Smaller churches/ministries means that more leaders are able to develop leadership gifts. Consolidated ministries tend to have rigid leadership structures that do not allow for new leaders to develop. Beginning new ministries actually facilitate the development of new leaders–not all of them will succeed, but they will provide the environment for the opportunity.

        On a military submarine or airplane, redundant systems are vital. If you are submerged thousands of feet bellow the surface of the ocean and a vital system malfunctions, you’d better hope that the redundant back-up kicks in. Redundant ministries are safeguards. Ministries do go defunct; once great Christian ministries and colleges have long since given up the ghost.

        Almost all of the Colleges and Universities established in England and America in the 18th and 19th centuries were founded as Christian institutions–Wheaton College is one of the lone surviving Christian institutions from its generation, it is a fluke. Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc. have long become secularized and forsaken their Christian charters and identities–hundreds of other schools have done likewise.

        There was a crisis in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and had new seminaries, colleges and universities not been established, we would be in a sorry place as a church in this nation. What about the YMCA? What about the Student Volunteer Movement? The vital Christian ministries of this generation might be the empty charitable organizations of the next. Redundant ministries are a safeguard, and they are a force multiplier.

        Instead of seeing a limited pool of resources, we need to turn to God and trust that he has the resources we need to develop new ministries, plant new churches, start new schools, set up new initiatives, start new missions projects… when partnership is the best way forward we should work in unity, however, more often than not, partnerships have resulted in theological/practical compromise and a loss of Christian identity in institutions.

        There is an old saying, and I’m going to paraphrase it: “the first generation came to faith, the second generation inherited the faith, the third generation rejected the faith.” Where there is no vision the people perish–one of the ongoing tasks of the Christian church is to prepare the next generation, the truth is this is one of the most difficult and often neglected issues in the church. The institutions that are vital today are only as good as their leadership tomorrow. Are we preparing the next generation, are we instilling in them the values? They have to ‘buy in’ to our current church models, ministries etc.

        Two generations ago denominations were the norm (but they had inherited them and didn’t see their value and purpose in advancing the Kingdom), the last generation largely abandoned denominations–many growing up in today’s church have never seen a healthy, Christ-centered denomination on mission and advancing the Kingdom, so there is great skepticism and distrust of Christian organizations and institutions. This is part of a broader trend of American distrust in institutions.

        It is much easier to plant a new church than rejuvinate an old one–because you can cast a fresh vision and invite people to join in. It is much harder to revive an older institution or church; but God is in the business of resurrecting the dead.

        Hundred of colleges, universities and seminaries have forsaken orthodox Christianity–I have yet to hear of a a college or university becoming Christian. We are working against the tide.

        • http://hangtogetherblog.com Kyle Ferguson

          Hey Ian,
          While I’m sorry that you disagree with my faulty post, it would appear that we are actually arguing for the same thing. Redundancy, by definition, refers to a second, third, or fourth ‘unneeded’ ministry. Even in my original post I challenged those in ministry to consider if their ministry was needed, the implication being that if it is needed, it should be started. In your response, you have made strong arguments for many different types of ministries, all of which have been ‘needed.’ This post was not written against multiple ‘needed’ ministries in the same field, as those, by definition, would not be redundant. My greater concern is the waste of resources in situations where second, third, or fourth ministries are NOT needed, but started anyway.

          • http://www.joyfield.org Ian Smith


            Thank you for your generous spirit towards me–I have used some very uncharitable words in my comments to this blog post. I hope you will forgive me for not reading the original post with the charity I would hope others would read my writing with.

            I respect that your views as the pastor of a local church are not necessarily the same as someone with a different ministry focus such as mine–and as I considered some different contexts, such as short term missions, I saw the validity of your points. While I do feel strongly that there is a need for additional campus ministry, access to quality Christian education, more church planting and long-term mission work among the unreached; there is quite a lot of Christian ministry that is narcissistic and redundant.

            I am from the Pacific Northwest–from the least churched county in the entire country; as a result, I am happy to see new ministry begin. I have spent years working in small struggling ministries among diaspora peoples. I didn’t take into account that my experience of Christianity in America is atypical and out of sync with someone pastoring a church in the Bible Belt.

            If we ever cross paths in person I hope that we can encourage and spur each other on in following Christ whole-heartedly!

            • http://hangtogetherblog.com Kyle Ferguson

              Hey Ian,
              Thanks for your response. I’m sure our paths will cross someday and I’d love to sit down over coffee or a Diet Coke. God bless your work overseas, you are in a very dark part of the world.

      • http://hangtogetherblog.com Kyle Ferguson

        Hey Peter,
        I too agree that competition can be healthy. I know of one church of 200 that sent out 50 people to plant another church so that now there are 2 churches of 150, a 100 person increase. VBS may work the same. My concern is not to tell a church that they should not hold their VBS of 100 just because another VBS is going on at the same time. Instead, my concern (and the church in Virginia is my church) is why would we host a VBS of 10 kids to compete with the VBS of 100 when special needs adults had nothing? 2 VBS programs of 100 would be great, but many times that is not the case, causing the program of 10 kids to be somewhat redundant.

        • http://www.knowableword.com Peter Krol

          That makes sense, Kyle. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Mark Elkington

    Kyle, are you being too nice? “Redundant ministries are often created out of a sincere devotion to Christ and the desire to make a difference.”

    Alternatively: “Redundant ministries are often created out of the Body not listening to the Head and the desire to make a difference my way.”

    Actually, your discussion is valid and helpful I think – I’m just giving a prod for consideration of possible underlying spiritual causes as well.

  • Todd

    I agree with the general idea of this article, but I think the point brought up about niche ministries is a little off, or maybe too simplified. When it comes to ethnic specific ministries, often times people start saying things like, “Can’t these groups just meet together? Isn’t it divisive to have an African american Bible study, or an international group?”. However, the problem of “coming together” is that it usually means that ethnic minority believers must leave behind aspects of their culture, worship styles, etc in order to join a “diverse” group that is in reality more catered to white, European-American culture (because it is the dominant culture). So I think there is a very important need to provide a space for people to feel culturally comfortable (as well as a place to come together with the whole, multi-ethnic body of Christ).

  • zack day

    I’m not sure consolidation of ministry is a good thing. Consolidation always means more money going through fewer hands and much opportunity for corruption to slip in. Also, fundamentally, we should be asking ourselves why “ministry” requires show and tell booth gimmicks in the first place. We have allowed the business ethos of the current era to slip in . The last thing the gospel needs is some attempt at industrialization.

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