Starting new programs is not just a good idea, it’s necessary for cultivating a vital education and formation program. Programs tend to have a short shelf life—though many tend to be maintained long past their expiration date for effectiveness. In fact, one of the most difficult things any pastor or educational leader may encounter is closing down a program that has outlived its relevance. A strategic schedule for starting new programs can (1) help your church evaluate current needs of its members; (2) assess the effectiveness of existing programs; and (3) be mindful of the stewardship of its resources.
Here’s a basic process for developing new programs in your church. Consider that a good rule of thumb, depending on the size of your congregation and its resources, is starting a new program every three years.
1. Assess the need and viability of the proposed program
Identify the target group for the new program and identify the needs it will meet for the participants. Look for gaps in the current programming—what needs or groups are not being addressed or provided for? Look for gaps in participation by age or interest groups—who is not participating in the life of the church community? Identify potential conflicts with current programs–are you competing with something already in place? Do you need to close an existing dated program in order to accommodate and resource the new? Involve the potential target participants in conversations and planning.
2. Determine appropriate educational and program approach
Choose the best educational approach for program: Classroom (didactic), dialogical, experiential, small or large group, leader dependent or group-directed, occasional or periodic, closed or open group or event, on site or off-site. Determine the setting and space needs for program type and size of group.
3. Identify, recruit, and train leadership
Choose the best persons for the job—the initial program leaders can make or break a program. Provide training prior to the program start, then on-going support. Provide budget and resources—seed money for a strong start, then regular budget support for development. Commit to ensuring the leadership’s success.
4. Develop and launch the program
Promote the new program through print and social media—where do people go for the kind of information, need, or interest you are offering? Promote program to the target audience—a program for ” anybody and everybody” will tend to attract nobody. Promote the new program through individual participant recruitment—invite specific persons to join the new program. Coordinate the program start with the church calendar.
5. Assess the new program
Honestly and critically assess the effectiveness of the new program. Is it meeting the needs intended? Most program need two to three years to “take.” Invest in that formative stage, then assess what is needed: re-direct? Reframe? Reformat? Reschedule? Resource? Close the program?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context..
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice),
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.