A new agency or a new program?

Photo of railroad tracks splitting

Choices! Freeimages.com/Jan Flaska

“We had been around for seven years and had reached our capacity organizationally. We either had to stop, cancel half our programs, compromise in some way or hire fundraising staff so we could raise more money so we could hire more staff. Or, we could look for someone bigger who could do all that and let me play to my strengths.” Darian Kovacs, founder of CampusFire, speaking at the 2008 CCCC Conference

Darian is a high energy, ministry entrepreneur. He built his organization from scratch to one that had its programs in over 1,200 schools across Canada – all with 3 staff. He faced the question that every entrepreneur faces at some point: Do I stay independent or should I find an organization that will take my idea to the next level?

Darian realized that his only viable option to grow and further fulfill his mission was to join somebody bigger. The solution ended up being to connect with an organization, City in Focus, that can do all the administration, and bring in a new leader, Jason Ballard, to take the ministry to the next level. Darian is now with a software company developing tools for charities to use. With the proper infrastructure, Jason can concentrate on what God has called him to do, instead of having to look after all the organizational needs.

Darian’s story provides a good illustration of why you might want to associate with a larger ministry. And sometimes, to fit in with a larger organization you first have to go it alone and prove the viability of the ministry.

How to decide

So when you have an idea for a new ministry, what factors might influence your choice about going it alone or joining another ministry right at the start?

One factor is theological and another is discerning your call. I’m going to write about discerning your call in the next post, so here we’ll just consider the theological factor. (I’ll also write another time about how a church or agency can decide whether to create its own new program or work through someone else.)

A fundamental characteristic of the people of God is our life in community. Missiologist George W. Peters once said that “Christianity is basically a religion of relationships.” The theological priority is to be in community with other believers. It seems reasonable therefore that we should first ask, “Who can I do this ministry with?” The bias would be towards working with a ministry that already exists rather than starting a new one.

The importance of being in community was made clear in an attitude survey I conducted for my doctoral thesis on church-agency relations (which I am now converting to a book). Almost 400 pastors completed an attitude survey about parachurch ministries and they revealed a strong undercurrent of suspicion about why people start their own ministries. One pastor captured the feelings of this group with a very simple judgment about agencies: “Most of them are scamps!”  Pastors claimed that:

  • There is sin in the lives of agency founders, including arrogance, greed, pride, selfishness and laziness;
  • Agency leaders refuse to be team-players and want to avoid accountability;
  • Agency staff circumvent “the system” by sidestepping a theological degree;
  • Agency staff have personal agendas and see agency work as an easy job and a get-rich-quick scheme;
  • Agency staff are arrogant, narcissistic lone rangers with high egos; and
  • Agencies attract people who are angry with the church.

So check your motivations for going the independent route. Do any of the above complaints prick your conscience? If so, think again. Assuming you decide to to create a new ministry with a clear conscience, my research also shows how to overcome these negative attitudes and have excellent relations with pastors. It really can be done!

Your options for working with others include working with your church, your denomination or with a Christian agency. Which to approach will depend on what the new ministry idea is, how broadly you have to reach to get the necessary financial and human resources, and perhaps the geographical scope of your ministry. Creating your own independent ministry could be a suitable choice if:

  • There is agreement that you are called and gifted but, for resource reasons or differences in priorities, your church or denomination is not able or willing to support the ministry; or
  • The ministry will have to draw from the wider church beyond your denomination to get enough gifted people to do the work; or
  • One of the purposes of the ministry includes fostering Christian unity by having Christians from different denominations work together in one organization;
    and
  • There is no existing agency willing to take on the proposed ministry.

If you are already independent, you could remain independent and work cooperatively with another ministry or you could merge with them and become part of a larger organization.

Either way, the way forward is to look for existing ministries that are already doing something close to what you want to do and see if there are any good fits. If working with another organization is not a fit (and you have agreement from others that your logic is sound), then you can proceed to start a new Christian agency in good spirit.

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Thoughts on A new agency or a new program?

  1. Ron Shantz

    I would concur with John’s comments around the pro’s and con’s of a new ministry or new program. If you have a particular gift that can be used by many, then offer it with a servant hearted attitude, and let the existing orgs manage the administration and finance. For example, I worked in the not for profit housing sector for over 15 years, and managed to build an network of contacts and resources that were built on relationships rather than contracts. This included many churches of all denominations and traditions that could assist the poor through advocacy as well as assisting agencies to connect to resources through the local church community. Everyone wins, and God is honored, and many came to become followers of Jesus as a result of connecting to a local church.

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