A handoff may be enough to inspire a fresh start

When my congregation’s visioning task force, which I chaired last year, recommended a big change in the way we spend mission dollars, no one was sure what would result.


But it turns out that taking time to evaluate — and change if necessary — the way a congregation does mission is worth the effort.


More than 20 years ago, for reasons that then made sense, my congregation moved responsibility for mission spending from a session committee to our board of deacons. It pumped new life into mission, and especially into our under-used deacons — under-used because a separate ministry then was doing the compassionate care work deacons traditionally do.


But as we thought about the widely scattered way in which our mission money is being spent now, and as we heard questions about whether our members are really involved with agencies we support with our money, we elected to move mission back to a session committee and assign deacons the ministries of compassion and care.


Well, our deacons are embracing their new work. And dynamic lay leaders have caught the mission vision and are moving aggressively to analyze how we’ve done this work in the past and how we should do it now.


New life: What a concept.


The new mission leadership has surveyed our members to find out what’s important to them and where they’re already giving their time and money. With the survey, members also received a terrific, easy-to-understand printed summary of how we spent $236,706 on mission last year, a figure that doesn’t include such things as pastors’ time and use of our building. There were charts and graphs and, in the end, it made me even happier that our visioning task force recommended hiring a communications director who knows how to tell this kind of complex story in simple ways.


Now comes the hard work: Deciding whether to stop funding certain mission efforts so we can concentrate on higher priorities. We’ve tried this before without lots of success, but this time it at least feels different. This time it seems as if people are grasping the need to concentrate our assets and aim our financial resources more directly where our hearts already are in terms of volunteer hours.


As the chair of our mission committee told the congregation, “Long-term, our goal is to connect people, passion and resources with a plan.”


In psychology, something called the Hawthorne Effect suggests that productivity improves when leaders simply make changes that let those they’re leading know they’re paying attention and care.


b-tammeus.jpgPerhaps that’s what’s going on here. We’ve made a significant change in the way we do mission and it’s creating good new energy in the congregation. Will it result in more effective mission efforts? Too soon to tell, but I hope so.


The point is that if you’ve done something at your church the same way for nearly ever and it seems sort of flat, maybe it’s time to give it new energy by letting others have a fresh go at it. Maybe that’s what the Holy Spirit has been whispering to you for years.


BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog at Read about his latest book E-mail him at