What kind of ministries does your church engage in? Are they inner focused or outer focused? Are they comfort-oriented or challenge-oriented?
In order to survive and thrive, churches need a balance of ministries that both support the church itself (inner focused) and extend the ministry of the church beyond its own four walls (outer focused).
In addition, they can be geared toward one of two different approaches. The first approach is a ministry that overcomes challenges by shaping and influencing the larger world (challenge ministry). The second approach is by offering comfort to and improving the lot in life of those who are facing challenges (comfort ministry).
For instance, operating a food pantry or soup kitchen may be a comfort ministry. Your church distributes food to those who have lost their jobs, are on the verge of homelessness, struggle with addiction, are chronically mentally ill, or are fleeing violent situations.
A challenge ministry might address root causes of homelessness, addiction, the vulnerability of the mentally ill, domestic violence, war or a floundering economy.
Here’s another example. Many churches gladly rise to the occasion of comforting those hit by natural disaster—whether flood, hurricane, tornado, mudslide or earthquake. You may have ministries that create flood buckets, collect first aid supplies, or rebuild homes or churches in the face of these types of disasters.
A challenge ministry would deal with natural disasters at a different level. It might address the source of natural disasters by cleaning up garbage dumps that clog urban drainage systems or by planting trees in deforested areas thereby preventing mudslides. It could also address root causes of poverty by challenging corporations that exploit the natural resources of poor peoples.
Finally consider the quintessential prayer ministry. Perhaps you have a prayer ministry that focuses on supporting and uplifting those facing cancer. You might also arrange rides for those who need chemotherapy or radiation and make sure there are meals prepared for them upon their arrival home.
On the other hand, your church may create a challenge ministry that seeks to clean up the local toxic waste site, the contents of which are leaching into the ground and contaminating your drinking water thus contributing to cancer.
Now consider the ministries of your church. How many are comfort ministries? How many are challenge ministries? List them.
Likely your church is heavy in one area and light in another. What types of ministries can be developed to balance that out? Who might you approach about these ministries? Think outside the box here!
Challenge ministries are important for they are a reflection of God’s power to right wrongs, and to bring justice to unjust situations. Churches in decline often find that moving from a focus on comfort to challenge re-invigorates them. It gets them back into the heart of God’s concern.