People Development Over Program Development

The church today has evolved into a complex system of programs designed to meet needs and help people. Many of these programs were started with a clear vision, and many of them remain true to their original purpose. However, like so many organizations, churches often protect what is at the expense of what could be. Unfortunately, protecting programs replaces  fulfilling mission.

How did we get to this place? In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal makes a poignant observation about the church and it’s program-driven modality. McNeal writes:

I maintain that the rise of the program-driven church correlates directly with the rise of the service economy in post-World War II America. The manufacturing engine powering the economy yielded to the service sector as Americans could afford to pay other people to do things they no longer wanted to do themselves or couldn’t do themselves. People began to outsource food preparation, lawn maintenance, laundry, oil changes, and child care. And Americans outsourced spiritual formation to the church. It was during this period that the concept of church as a vendor of religious goods and services became entrenched in the ethos of the North American church culture. (p. 92)

McNeal asserts that the church made an assumption that all of these programs were actually helping people grow. Perhaps some–maybe even many–of them do. But our assumptions are usually based on attendance rather than outcomes. We assume that if people are showing up, they must be growing. Our growth equation is often nothing more than Activity + Attendance = Personal Growth. As a result, people fail to “own” their growth.

I’m not suggesting that programs are bad. Rather, I’m challenging leaders to keep people development in focus. If programs can be leveraged to truly develop people, then those program should be resourced and maximized. But like so many things, the purpose of programs often evolves into nothing more than self-preservation. They shift from mission to maintenance.

So what might a new model for people development look like? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but when I observe healthy growth in people, I often see three important elements:

1. Customization

There is no one-size-fits-all personal growth system that everybody fits into neatly. Truthfully, most growth that seems to gain traction in our lives is customized to who we are and sensitive to our unique learning styles. Cramming square pegs into round holes only creates tension in the growth process. More times than not, people quit programs or drop out midstream because it doesn’t match their growth objectives or learning style. As a result, they fail to close their personal growth gapsQuestion: What would happen if we helped people develop a customized growth plan to accelerate their growth?

2. Coaching

The coaching industry is accelerating like never before. And because true coaching is client-driven, people being coached tend to own their growth and are more deeply committed to seeing change in their lives. Good coaching doesn’t come with a pre-assigned solution to your problems. Rather, good coaching takes AIM at your potentialQuestion: How could we create a scaleable coaching strategy in the church in which people access the coaching they need to fulfill their God-given purpose?

Good coaching doesn't come with a pre-assigned solution to your problems. Click To Tweet

3. Community

People need the ongoing support, encouragement, accountability, and growth-focused conversations of people who believe in them. When they experience true community, they often find themselves motivated toward growth. When you talk about community in the church, the focus is almost always on small groups. I believe in small groups, but I don’t believe small groups are the only way to experience deep relationships. Outside of my family, the most impacting relational connections in my life have occurred through one-on-one supportive accountability relationships with mature leaders.

Question: What other suggestions can you offer for creating a people-development culture over a program-development culture in the local church?