By Eddie Pipkin
It’s time for spring cleaning! At least where I live – you may have another few weeks to plan your spring cleaning projects before the weather catches up with your pent-up enthusiasm. But in addition to your household projects, it’s a great time for ministry spring cleaning. And we’re not just talking about sprucing up the grounds and physical spaces where our ministries take place (although it is a great time to give those physical spaces a good polish before Easter events). It’s also very important to have a regular plan to do some organized updating, clean-up, and freshening of our administrative systems and ministry processes.
I defer to my favorite home decorating and project advisor, Orlando’s Marni Jameson, who inspired this meditation on ministry spring cleaning with her recent article, “Ways to show your house you care.” She offers prompts for tasks to freshen your primary living space so that it is . . .
- Revived and renewed for fresh enjoyment for the people who spend most of their time in it.
- Ready for guests!
- Given a clean bill of health for safety and longevity.
These are all great reasons to do spring cleaning for ministry (again, for both physical spaces AND ministry processes, procedures, and structures). This is the kind of advice that we would always recommend for leadership to pay attention to – the whole point is that it’s very easy to ignore routine “maintenance” because we get inured to wear and tear and accustomed over time to things that aren’t really working the way they should work but are working “well enough.” Spring marks a transition from the ‘hunkering down’ mentality of winter to a season of fresh attitudes and high energy. Let’s put those to good use with intention! But spring of 2021 marks what is also hopefully a very special season of transition: the gradual, but inevitable move back to normalcy. For ministry, this transition should have us thinking NOW about two questions:
- How do we navigate this hybrid space of the return to in-person events, even as we are promoting safety and not yet back to full-on normal?
- How will in-person events and systems of ministry be permanently changed (for the better) as we return to the new normal?
We have learned a lot in the last year, and if our planning now is focused on getting things back to exactly how they were before, then we have missed a profound opportunity. Our systems of connection, interaction, management, and engagement should look different than they did before we began this adventure. Some of these questions are technical, some practical, some deeply philosophical, but we should be focused on exploring them and positioning ourselves for an embrace of new ways of doing old things. It’s gong to be very tempting just to heave a deep sigh of relief and fall right back into our old patterns.
Spring cleaning as a metaphor (and as a practical proposition for those of you who haven’t cleaned out those storage closets in the past year) offers a fun and productive way to think about getting our teams into the spirit of rethinking ministry objectives and processes. With Marni Jameson as our guide, we can take her focus on sprucing up the home and apply her ideas to a ministry check-up, looking at the principles behind what she describes as “eight small and inexpensive moves to show your home you care”:
- Replace What’s Used Up.
Marni writes about replacing household items: “If your doormat is in tatters, your area rugs have run their course and your dishtowels look as if they were last used to wipe down a car engine, get new ones.” That’s a fine reminder with Easter right around the corner to replace those worn-out entryway door mats at the church entrance and the ragged artificial plants that border the worship platform. BUT thinking in broader terms, what about the ministry areas that the COVID crisis confirmed were outdated and non-functioning, like that nonexistent men’s group or Tuesday morning Bible study that’s down to three people who only show up out of guilt. Let those activities go. Use that energy and effort to do something new.
- Fix What’s Broken.
Again, it would be nice before Easter to have that non-working sink in the public bathroom functioning again, but even more importantly, what about those ministry systems that everybody knows are not working the way they are supposed to. “We used to have a system for sending out a letter to visitors, but now we don’t.” Let’s get that fixed. “We have a clunky, hard to use interface for making online donations.” Ouch. Embrace the future. Make it a priority to get that straightened out. Imagine a staff meeting or leadership gathering where you had a spring cleaning focus that did nothing but brainstormed and solved for broken things at your church (physical stuff AND ministry processes). That session could have profound impact going forward.
- Remove What’s Dated.
Are you still using a printed newsletter template from 1984? Maybe it’s time to try something different. Is there inherently sexist or otherwise insensitive language on your website or in written descriptions of your ministries? Or do those descriptions sound like prose written by a bunch of, shall we say, “not currently culturally relevant” authors? Let’s freshen that up! Even in the context of worship, is the format and use of liturgy due for a revision to keep them relevant and in tune with the times? You can keep the ageless message of the Gospel at the center of things while meeting people where they are in terms of their expectations for presentation and engagement.
- Paint What’s Faded.
I know some churches with whom I would like to share this advice in regards to the lines in their parking lots! And signage to may places I visit seems out-of-date or less than clear. There’s somebody out there just waiting for the assignment to evaluate and rethink your facility signage, too. But even more importantly than that, do you have an old, faded system of discipleship training? Give a do-over! Imagine if your discipleship ministry or children’s Sunday morning program (or whatever the faded part of your routine ministry is) was a guest star on one of those popular makeover shows! You and your team could actually have a lot of fun with this concept: “At today’s leadership meeting, we are going to be giving Ministry X a total makeover!”
- Touch Up What’s Worn.
Time for some fresh faces? Time for some fresh routines? Do you have the same old pattern and patter for your Sunday morning announcements? Do you have the same old faces doing all the interaction during worship? Is your social media stale and uninspiring? That’s when people stop paying attention – to announcements, to worship segments, to social media, to printed newsletters and e-newsletters. It’s just human nature. We’re bored, or we think we’ve heard this all before, so we move on to thinking about something else. Hold people’s attention by keeping it fresh.
- Restore What’s Beat.
People need restoration, too, and if there was ever a year that wore key folks down, this has been it. Imagine a “restoration project” or “restoration program” for your hard-working staff and leadership. It could be as simple as some dedicated time off to compensate for the intense focus of the past year, or even better, some designated small-scale sabbaticals in which key people were given a day or a long weekend to refresh their spiritual batteries, but they proposed a specific way to do this that they shared with the team beforehand, and then they reported back on the results when they were done.
- Clean What’s Neglected.
This can be the janitor’s closet, the church minibus, your email inbox, or your paper files. It can be any of those corners that have gathered cobwebs, all the stuff you’ve been meaning to get to. Declare a “Benign Neglect” day when everyone is encouraged to take one whole day to catch up on long-neglected tasks and clean up desks and check off tasks that have been moldering and smoldering for far too long.
- Bring Your House Some Flowers.
I love this recommendation: it’s whimsical and hopeful and highlights the way that a thoughtful small touch can change the vibe of a space for the better. Do something fun in your worship space or at the entrance to your property to show you feel blessed, still smiling, and anticipating the future with hope. Inspirational signage is nice. Banners of gratitude can spark a chain reaction. Some actual flowers are appropriate for Spring. Never underestimate the impact of free pie! Throw an unexpected party. Break out the sidewalk chalk and cut the kids loose. “Hey, you artsy types who are part of our church. What can we do this week to inject some fun into things?” They have ideas.
Do you have some spring cleaning projects planned for your own ministries? Is it an annual thing? Does it seem more needed than usual this year? Are you and your team ready to bust out of the pandemic funk and burst forth with a resurgence of energy and enthusiasm? What specific ideas listed above give you incentives for going forward? What spring cleaning ideas of your very own, unique to your own context, have they sparked? Please share to inspire others!