Every Saturday morning at the Evangelical Free Church of Crystal Lake (Ill.), 30 to 35 people show up to learn martial arts. While there, they also memorize Scripture and hear the gospel. And half of those people wouldn’t otherwise be in church.
This isn’t the only niche ministry at Crystal Lake EFC. Men’s and women’s Celebrate Recovery groups also visit the local jail each week. Through another ministry called HUGS (Hearts United in God’s Service), church men meet tangible needs like home repairs and removing trees. And recently, some moms started “Salute” to reach out to soldiers returning home from deployment, and their families as well.
Senior Pastor Bob Page says this broad range of ministries springs from a desire to equip and unleash people in the church to lead. But with all of the needs and potential ministries out there, how does a church decide which ministries to launch? Page said he looks for a few things:
1. Does this ministry line up with our core values?
Crystal Lake EFC wants everything to be gospel-centered. For that reason, when a man passionate about martial arts approached Page with his vision, Page took the time to explore his ideas. When he heard this man’s desire to share the gospel through the ministry and have participants memorize Scripture, Page knew it would fit the direction of their church.
The church also values trying to incarnate Christ to its community and finding ways to pass on a blessing—whether that be the blessing of finances (through benevolent ministries), caring ministries, or the unique passions and gifts of its people. This has caused them to decline ministries that are primarily political or support groups.
2. Is this ministry well-planned and sustainable?
When he’s approached by people with specific passions, whether staff or lay people, Page asks them to put together a ministry master plan. He wants to see how much they’ve thought through.
He also wants to make it easier for them to recruit volunteers, “so that they won’t be doing it alone, so it will be sustainable,” he explains.
Sometimes the church chooses to wait before launching a ministry, giving it more time to succeed. For example, Crystal EFC leaders waited almost a year before taking Celebrate Recovery to the jail, in large part because they needed enough passionate leaders to make the ministry sustainable. And taking this time has proven worthwhile.
Three years ago, the martial arts visionary moved away, but because of the strength of the plan and the other leaders he had on board, the ministry has continued in his absence.
3. Does this leader have the character and tenacity necessary to run with it?
“Sometimes ministry is hard,” Page says. “People who are easily discouraged are not people you want to be leading these ministries. They have to have a certain level of the gift of faith, [plus] resolve, determination, tenacity, trust in the Lord and willingness to do it even when they’re not seeing a lot of results.”
Even such careful launching of new ministries is not without challenges. “Sometimes it feels like we’ve gone too far, like we’re trying to do too much,” Page admits. “Our people do get tired, and sometimes they need a rest.”
He also acknowledges that in a small church with more limited resources, leadership may have to be even more selective to ensure they have enough critical mass to sustain the ministry.
However challenging the planning, Bob points out, it’s worth it to have the “problem” of too many with too many ideas for reaching out to their community.