Local Church Ministry

Ministry Triage: How to Decide Which Ministries to Bring Back First

If you’ve ever taken a trip to a hospital emergency room, you’re probably familiar with the term triage. It’s a simple process in which a medical professional conducts a quick evaluation of a patient’s symptoms in order to determine how quickly they need to be treated. This helps the ER staff to prioritize treatment, especially during those times when all patients can’t be treated immediately. For example, a patient experiencing a heart attack will be a higher priority than a patient with a sprained ankle.

Ministry Emergency

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a ministry emergency in churches everywhere. In the blink of an eye, nearly every ministry in the church was suspended. Worship was moved online. Some small groups met online. Some didn’t meet at all. The church nursery, usually filled with the cries of precious little ones, was suddenly and eerily silent. Church calendars quickly transformed from crammed to bare. Senior adult lunches were canceled. The Easter cantata was canceled. VBS was canceled. Summer camp was canceled. Mission trips were canceled. Pretty much everything was canceled.

And most ministries have not yet returned.

However, in recent days, I’ve begun to hear about more and more churches who are having conversations about which ministries to bring back and when they should do so. The reality is it’s highly unlikely that every ministry can come back at the same time. Therefore, churches must prioritize which ministries to focus on first, and which ministries that will need to wait a little longer. In essence, churches need to conduct ministry triage.

Conducting Ministry Triage

But how should churches do so? The obvious answer is to do so prayerfully. Churches need to cry out to the Lord and seek His wisdom as they consider bringing back some of their ministries. Every decision should be bathed in prayer.

In addition to prayer, here are 10 questions to consider:

  • How many church members does this ministry impact? In other words, does this ministry affect a small segment of the church (such as high school students) or does it affect everyone? Ministries that impact a larger group of people will usually need to be addressed sooner than other ministries.
  • How does this ministry help us accomplish our mission of making disciples? Another way to ask this question would be, is this ministry mission critical? Is it a necessity in our mission to make disciples? Would we be able to make disciples without this ministry? If you can’t see your church effectively making disciples without this particular ministry, it probably needs to be a high priority.
  • What are the long-term effects of prolonged suspension of this ministry? If this ministry can’t return for 12 months or longer, will there be a significant negative impact upon our church or community?
  • How often did this ministry occur before the pandemic? Was it a ministry that occurred weekly or monthly? Was it a ministry that took place once a year? Ministries that normally occur with more frequency may need attention before those ministries that occur less frequently.
  • What percentage of volunteers are prepared to return? If your church brings back a particular ministry, will you have enough volunteers to lead it? 
  • How feasible is it to restart this ministry safely? Our new normal is here to stay for a while. As you consider bringing back a particular ministry, you will definitely need to consider how difficult it will be to do so safely. Can it be adapted in some way to ensure physical distancing and other safety precautions?
  • What is the level of demand from church members for this ministry? Is there a large proportion of your church members who are complaining because a particular ministry hasn’t returned? Or has anyone mentioned it since the pandemic began? While this is probably not the most critical question in this list, it is still a factor to consider.
  • How does this ministry relate to other ministries? In other words, is this ministry independent of all other church ministries or is it related to others? For example, can you bring back adult Sunday School without also bringing back childcare? How does this ministry impact other ministries or how is it impacted by other ministries?
  • What is the financial impact of this ministry? Some churches have seen a decline in giving during the pandemic and may not be able to conduct ministries that are a disproportionate drain to the budget. Will this particular ministry make it challenging for the church to pay its bills? If so, it may not be wise to bring it back for a while.
  • Does this ministry help us reach lost people for Jesus? Studies show that one of the signs of a dying church is that they lose an outward focus. They move from ministry to maintenance mode. While this pandemic presents unique challenges that have forced churches to look inward for a season, we must not lose sight of the fact that the lost world still needs Jesus. As you evaluate your ministries, those that help lost people hear the gospel should be a priority.

After considering each of these questions, your church leaders will need some way to reach a decision about which ministries to bring back first. To assist in this process, I have created a tool that may help. It is called the Ministry Triage Assessment Tool. Depending on the responses to each of these 10 questions, this tool will assign a point value for each response and will ultimately designate each ministry as either High Priority (Red), Medium Priority (Yellow), or Low Priority (Green). 

You can download the tool here (don’t worry; it’s free!).

Permanent Pause

As many ministry leaders have noted in recent days, some ministries may not need to return at all after the pandemic has passed. For some, they were ineffective at making disciples or reaching new people. Some may have cost a lot but did not bear much fruit. Others may have required a lot of manpower with very little to show for it. Therefore, some ministries may need to be placed on permanent pause.

This tool can also assist churches in identifying which ministries fall into this category. If a ministry is deemed by the tool as a Low Priority with a total score of less than 20, church leaders should have a serious discussion about whether the ministry needs to return at all. Perhaps the time and resources spent in that ministry could be better spent elsewhere. 

In these challenging days, ministry triage will most likely be necessary for your church. I pray this post and the Ministry Triage Assessment Tool will help you make decisions that honor the Lord and benefit your church and community!

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