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Ministry: Environments vs. Events

December 6th, 2010 · No Comments · Christianity, Church, Church of Christ, Ministry, Religion

In the majority of the churches I have either attended or ministered at the ministries often relied on events over environments. Ministry consisted of having some type of event or activity for a given ministry area…so you have fellowship events, a service event, a new members event, or some type of evangelistic event. This style of ministry is appealing for several reasons. They are usually pretty easy to plan. They have a concrete start and stop time. They can be pretty easily controlled and require little to no maintenance. Those are huge pluses when you are using a volunteer army of mostly already very busy people.

Environments on the other hand require a lot more in order to be done right but have some great benefits over event-centered ministry approaches. They provide a more coherent approach because you are developing community out of which flows various areas of ministry (fellowship, study, etc). They provide consistency (as opposed to the more random/hodgepodge approach of a random list of disconnected activities). They provide real connection over time as people are around each other week in and week out rather than in a one time event where you hope they later take initiative to maintain their new found connections.

More and more I am becoming a fan of environments. This was one of the driving factors in our decision to change up our Bible class. We realized we have three environments that specifically focused on Bible study and ZERO that focused on actually serving others. Something had to give. At the end of the day environment focused ministries will end up doing more and not less than the event-centered approach. It is just hard to let go of the reigns and allow a more organic approach that may be a little harder to define or measure than what we are used to. There is still room for congregation-wide events but I am more and more convinced that more meaningful work is going to get done and on a more consistent basis through developing effective environments for what we believe is important.


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  • Philip Cunningham III

    These are excellent reflections, Matt

  • JamesBrett

    excellent post, matt. we need better environments. and for many of our churches a step away from more bible classes and studies is a step in the right direction. we know far too much about God to often look so little like him.

    i’m not sure i can think of many benefits events and programs have over community and environment. except that they take less commitment and can be turned on and off. that’s surely a benefit to those who want the christian name without the accompanying life. i predict the environment idea, taken seriously, to chase away some people. but (as bad as this sounds) the community will likely improve as a result. and others will want to become a part.

  • JamesBrett

    oh, one more thing. you mentioned there still being a place for congregation-wide events. one fear i do have is that we create these communities (or environments) around particular age-groupings. that’s been a trend we’ve already seen with youth ministry… and college ministry… probably with young singles, etc, etc. i have my reservations about how healthy that is; actually, if i’m honest, i suppose i’d come out and say i think it’s damaging altogether.* i like the titus 3 picture of environment much better, old and young together in community. that doesn’t necessitate congregation-wide events, but it will force us to think about the way in which we form — or even allow to form — these communities. we’ll have to be intentional.

    * just one example would be the way in which social maturity and responsibility are coming at much later ages these days. much of that is due to (in my opinion) children, teens, and college students spending so much time together and so little with adults. and rarely is that time they do spend with adults spent living life — rather it is some “forced” event in which the adults are playing roles of chaperones, etc — not simply living their lives as christians. christian adulthood isn’t modeled, and our youth are hurting because of it (again, my take). we’ve got to start spending time together in life, young and old, male and female. [like they still do out in a lot of rural areas — and (i’ve noticed) those children seem to handle responsibility well much earlier.]

    • Jerry Starling

      I remember a series by Jay Guin back in the Spring or Summer in which he talked about how to do youth ministry. He commented that kids who came to UoA from small churches were much more likely to “stick” with church than those who came from large churches with well-defined youth ministries. He attributed it to the way most youth ministries are done – serving kids instead of mentoring them by providing situations where they served in ministry alongside adults who have a passion for the service they are giving.

      Matt, I believe this follows the same line of thinking you are in this post, and I think it is exactly on line.

      After all, how did Jesus train His disciples? It was in community and environment more than in a class room.


    • mattdabbs

      I would agree that it can be damaging but I don’t think age-based ministries have to be damaging. It all depends on how this is done. I think it can be done well with age groups and I think it can be done poorly with the combo approach. It all depends on how you structure it. Our 20s & 30s group at Northwest is designed for 20s & 30s. Some older people are attracted to it and they are welcome to come. Five years ago we had a plethora of people over 45 and then a huge gap down to the youth group where there was again a large group 18 and under. Today we have a vibrant group of 18-40 year olds and it is due in part because we created space for them to connect, to study, to grow, and to serve. Our model has them rubbing shoulders with people of all ages and viewing other segments of the congregation as valuable and recognizing that we can learn from them. So our group is not isolated from everyone else. We recognize our dependence on those older and younger than ourselves and are striving to build bridges rather than erecting demographic walls within the church. That makes for a healthy ministry. It can be done poorly and it can be damaging but it can also be healthy and vibrant. We are shooting for the second.

  • guy


    i’m bad about only commenting when i have some rub or point of disagreement. As a result, i rarely comment on your blog because they’re typically so good. So i’m changing that now. Just want to say this post is great, and generally your blog is very insightful and encouraging. i just hope you keep up the good work.


  • Bob Bliss

    Matt, I’m not sure I understand what “environment” type of ministry is. Could you elaborate?

    • mattdabbs


      I will address this in another post later today. That is a great question and it was not outlined like it should have been in the post. Thanks for asking the question I am sure a few others had but didn’t ask.

    • mattdabbs

      A couple of posts up to answer your question. Hope that is helpful.

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