One of the leader’s most important roles in today’s church is determining and setting priorities. What should demand the attention of the staff and volunteers, and what should go on the “back burner?” That is the question. Church leaders must be clear on their priorities with limited staff and even more limited financial resources. What is “top priority,” and what can (and should) wait?
Early in my tenure as an Executive Pastor, we established a method of setting ministry priorities. It’s pretty simple. Think of Sunday morning, mid-week, and missions as three buckets into which we pour resources. The buckets are side-by-side, and water (resources – money and people) is poured into the first bucket until it is full, after which the resources “spill” into the next bucket until it fills up, and so on.
The First Bucket
The first bucket is Sunday morning. For any church plant to succeed, it must first focus on the “front door” to reach its target. What must be done to attract and retain people based on an understanding of the demographic? Of course, the teaching must be excellent, but what kind and quality of music must be part of the service to reach the target group? Is an excellent children’s program important? Having an incredible children’s program simultaneous with Sunday morning services is almost always critical in making sure parents are motivated (sometimes by their children) to come back. What else about Sunday morning is important? How about hospitality? Is it important to provide coffee and snacks for people arriving for the Sunday morning services? How “user-friendly” is checking children into their classes on Sunday morning? This “first bucket” priority dictates that the first four staff positions are the Senior Pastor, Worship Pastor, Children’s Pastor, and Adult Ministries Pastor.
Once Sunday morning is awesome, and the required resources (great teaching, excellent worship leadership and music, and outstanding children’s programming) are in place to make Sunday morning the best it can be, the bucket is full. It then begins to overflow, and resources begin to spill over into the second bucket mid-week.
The Second Bucket
Mid-week is primarily small groups. Is the leadership in place to build a small group ministry? As the church grows, it needs to be easier and easier for people to “connect.” Small groups are the most common way people connect, becoming a part of what’s happening outside of the worship service on Sunday morning. Again, only after the first bucket is full and the ministry is growing (usually measured in average weekly attendance) should resources “spill” into the second bucket. They can’t spill (are not available) into the second bucket until the first bucket is full. The next staff position is, therefore, a Groups Pastor.
The Third Bucket
After the first and second buckets are full, they overflow into the third bucket, missions. Of course, the missions area includes both benevolence and church planting. To have a strong missions effort (to be missional), a church must be healthy. By “healthy,” I mean significantly growing in attendance and income. I’ve spoken to church leaders who illustrate how missional their churches are by saying something like, “We reserve 40% of our budget for missions.” I usually respond with “awesome!” I then ask about attendance and growth and am often told that the church has zoomed to 100 and been there for many years. Nice!
Jesus called us to “go and make disciples” and to serve the poor and impoverished. That is not in question. The issue is priority setting. Devoting 40% of the budget for a “small” church will pretty much guarantee the church will stay small. Early in the church plant, the focus must be to grow, become self-supporting, and build enough wealth to effectively “reach the world.” Then, and only then, can the church have a significant impact on growing the kingdom.
The 3 Buckets in Action
I recently talked to a Senior Pastor looking for new church growth ideas. We quickly identified that he needed to hire a full-time worship leader (first bucket) to help create something on Sunday morning that would attract new people and keep them coming back. He said he couldn’t afford to hire that person. Looking at his budget, I noticed more than $60,000 in a “missions” (third bucket) fund. My suggestion to use those funds to pay a good worship leader was met with an above-average amount of “pushback.” Hmmm. I then suggested that the $60K would sit there forever, not doing any good if the church didn’t grow. I think he got my point.
There you have it! First bucket: Sunday morning, second bucket: mid-week and third bucket: missions. Give it a try. Using The 3 Buckets as a model for priority setting will help your leaders make decisions that will ultimately allow your church to have excellent services, a great children’s program, rapid assimilation and connection, and an impactful missions effort in the long run.