“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1. This passage goes on to tell us that there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to keep and a time to throw away. Christians often quote this passage when making a transition in our personal lives, yet when we think of the season for a program within the church ending we are rarely so casual. There is a season for everything and even as summer must turn into fall so must the programs within the church pass to make way for the next season. With the end of one season comes some happiness and some sorrow. Such is also the case with the passing of a program within the church. Now, I am not trying to say that we should approach the passing of a program as casually as spring turning into summer. What I am saying is that we should accept this inevitability even as we accept that the next season is going to come, with or without our approval. No matter how passionate we may be about summer, winter is going to come and, likewise, no matter how passionate we may be about a program, event or ministry their season is going to end.
That brings up the question, “how do I know when the season for a ministry is ending and how do I end it well?” This is a big question, and it’s one I’m certain most people in ministry have considered. In this article I will do my best to address the first part of this question, in subsequent articles I will give some ideas of how to save a dying program and finally how to end it when the time comes. One thing I will not do is tell you that there is an easy way to know when the season is ending, or that there is an easy way to end it. What I will do is give you some signs that it might be ending. I refer only to programs in this article, but the concepts here will apply to any program, event, ministry, or other activity within your church.
Purpose. This seems to be one of the few things that most people are seeking, both Christians and non-Christians. It is also the first measure of when a program is coming to the end of its life. Hopefully this was considered when starting a program. If not, then take some time to consider the program’s primary purpose. Is this an evangelistic program, or is it aimed at discipleship? Is fellowship the goal, or worship, or ministry? Determine what the primary purpose is, and then ask the question. Is this ministry achieving that goal? If the answer is no, then it may be time to end this program.
Passion. The next thing we should look at is passion. Talk to the people that are serving in this program. Are they passionate about it, or do they simply serve out of obligation or routine? What about the leadership? Are the ones that started this program still passionate about it? Do they look forward to every opportunity to work in this program? Does the program get them excited, or is it simply something that must be done? Are they energized by it or is it sucking the life out of them? A lack of passion may not mean that the program is dying, but it is something that needs to be considered.
Pry. Next take some time to talk with your Christian friends and family. Let them know what you are thinking and see what their thoughts and feelings are. Talk with the people serving in the program, and those that lead it. Consult the pastors and any others members of the church staff. Seek out people that lead other ministries within your church. Reach out to those that lead similar ministries in other churches. The internet and sites like Ministry-to-children.com and CMconnect.org have made this easier than ever. Reach out to these different groups of people and let them help you determine if the program is coming to its end.
Pray. This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to over look the importance of prayer in a situation like this. Pray and ask God for wisdom and guidance. Ask Him to point you towards people that can help you determine the best course of action. Ask God to open your eyes, your ears and your heart so that you can see, hear, and feel what you need to in order to make the right decision.
None of the stuff here is definitive. These are signs that a program, event, or ministry may be reaching the end of its season, but none of them is diagnostic in and of itself. You must consider each of these items individually and collectively to see if the seasons are getting ready to change. Even if everything seems to be pointing to a new season, there may be some things that can be done to re-energize the program, to bring it back to life, to help it do what it was originally designed to do. But, for that you will have to wait for the next article.