Gotta' Keep It Fresh If You Want Your Ministry to Thrive

A recent report says that the Subway (sandwich franchise) store count fell by more than 900 in the last year.  Hundreds of more stores are in danger of closing and up to one-third of the Subway stores in the U.S. could currently be unprofitable.

Traffic into the stores has decreased by 25% over the past 5 years.

Seems like the store that has prided itself on serving "fresh" sandwiches has gotten tired and stale.

Consultant Joel Libava said, "The brand is tired.  The employees even look tired."

What is causing Subway to currently be in a slump?  I believe there are 4 big factors that are contributing to this.

And I also believe churches can learn some valuable lessons from what is happening at Subway.  You see, all across the country, there are churches that are in decline.  Drive by on Sunday and you will see fewer and fewer cars in their parking lot.  Go into their children's ministry and you will see few, if any kids.  Guests rarely walk in the doors.  The baptistry is collecting dust.  You enter the church and can sense the depletion of life and energy.

Let's look at 4 big reasons this is happening at Subway...and at many churches.

Serving stale food.  Many Subway franchise owners, say they used to be able to order fresh, local produce daily.  But now, produce is delivered once a week.  The result - by the end of the week, the lettuce is not fresh.  And who wants to be served stale lettuce?  No one.
Many churches across the country are presenting the Word of God, which can be "fresh and new each day" in a way that is "stale and tired." 
Stale songs that have been sung so many times they are sung with empty, rote obligation.

Used, old sermons that have been re-named and re-served without a fresh anointing of God.

Tired children's ministry teachers who drone on with teaching styles that were used 50 years ago.

Old "Sunday school" classrooms that have the original paint colors from when the building was constructed decades ago.

Irrelevant programs that are only perpetuated because of the over-riding desire to not hurt the feelings of a few cranky leaders who've controlled (and helped cause) the staleness for many years.

If you want your ministry to thrive, then you have to keep it fresh.  This means each year, you take a hard look at the ministry and ask these type questions:
  • What is tired?
  • What needs updating?
  • What is no longer accomplishing the purpose we started it for?
  • What can we do to keep the ministry fresh and relevant?
The natural trend is for things to get stale.  Food naturally gets stale.  Decor can naturally get stale.  People can naturally get tired.

It takes intentionality to keep things fresh.  If your ministry is going to stay fresh and exciting, it will be because you are intentional about keeping it fresh.

Not listening to your team members who are on the front line.  At Subway, one store owner said she has told upper management that the lettuce is getting stale and that it's a massive problem.  But she says the leaders are "not listening."
"One sign a ministry is getting stale is the leader has stopped listening and valuing the input, ideas and feedback of volunteers." 
One of the biggest keys to keeping a ministry fresh, is listening to the people who are serving on the front lines.  Greeters.  Ushers.  Small group leaders.  Teachers.  Parking lot team members.  Event helpers.

These are the people who can feel the pulse of the ministry.  They can help you identify what is getting stale.  They can offer great insight and ideas that will keep the ministry fresh.

Don't wait for them to bring the ideas and feedback to you.  Because in many cases, they won't.  Instead, be proactive and ask them for their ideas and feedback on a regular basis.

Each week, ask some of the people on the front lines these 3 questions:
  • What is working well?
  • What needs improving or changed?
  • Where do you see God at work in the ministry?
Not updating.  While other competing restaurants have updated their facilities and menus, Subway has made very few updates.

Likewise, many ministries across the country are slumping and will eventually close their doors, because they aren't willing to make changes and update what is no longer effective.
"Our message doesn't change, but we must be willing to change how we serve it, if we are going to stay fresh and relevant to a new generation of families." 
We must stay anchored to the truth while at the same time being geared for the time in which we live.

It's actually pretty simple.  Change or slump.  Update or be out-of-date.  Keep things fresh or become stale.

It takes courage to change what is not working.  It takes passion to stay relevant.  It takes vision to continue moving forward. 

Focusing on quantity over quality.  There are a lot of Subway stores.  25,835 at the time of this writing.  For years, it seems they have been more concerned about opening more stores than they are about making sure existing stores increase sales.

This can be seen when they open new stores near existing stores.  When this happens, stores end up competing against one another for sales.

This happens in churches as well.  Rather than focusing on the quality of programs, some churches focus on the quantity of programs.  They keep adding program after program...event after event..ministry after ministry.

This causes them to have a full calendar, but a calendar that produces few results.  You can do a few things with excellence or a lot of things with mediocrity.  It's hard to keep things fresh when you are trying to manage an overload of programs and events. 

One of the best things many churches can put on their calendar is eraser marks.  Our goal should be productivity over busyness.  Measure outcome over activity.

And just as Subway stores end up competing with one another because there are too many in one area, when you have too many ministries in your church, they can end up competing with each other for resources, volunteers, promotion, etc.  Silos are built and you can't build a thriving ministry when you are building ministry silos.  

I'm not sure what the future holds for Subway.  Maybe they'll make the changes needed to refresh their mode of operation and start thriving again.

I do know for many churches, the same thing is true.  If they want to thrive in the days ahead, then they'll need to...

Share the timeless message of the Gospel in new, creative, compelling ways.

Listen to those who are serving on the front lines and use their valuable feedback to make the ministry better.

Update and change what's not working.  

Focus on quality over quantity of programs and events. 

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What do you think churches will need to do to thrive in the years to come?  Share your thoughts, ideas and insight in the comment section below.