Going lean and mean


Yesterday’s church service was a celebration of what God is doing in our community. For those who don’t know, I attend a church plant called Harbor Mid-City. It’s an effort to do the impossible task of bridging cultures in one of San Diego’s most diverse communities. Mid-city is home to roughly 60 language groups and it’s socio-economic demographic stretches nearly as wide. In short, it is a place which embraces the awkwardness that these people don’t normally come together for the sake of living out the Gospel message of justice and equality while being surrounded by injustice and inequality.

No church has ever challenged my way of thinking more. In theory, I love everything Harbor is about. But in practice, I’m a wuss and have to actively fight my tendency to make church about my kind of people worshipping in my kind of way. I thank God for His challenging our to invest there for now.

For the last few weeks the church– and a hodgepodge of other ministries in the neighborhood– have run what they call The Urban Project. Essentially, this is a justice in action project. I don’t know all of the details of everything that was done but I do know that for these few weeks the whole church put forth an effort to do really cool stuff. They fixed stuff that was broken. They pointed out to local government injustices in our working class poor neighborhood. They employed high school students and taught them leadership skills. They ran a free day camp for the children of the community. I’m sure they did a lot more, too. But that’s the stuff I know of.

Here’s the point of this post: The church couldn’t do this if they didn’t operate lean and mean. Here are three ways they operate lean and mean that are worth thinking about:

1. No property. I think a lot of churches would be wise to sell their property. They have no idea what a distraction an office is for the staff nor how much time/effort/money is wasted simply by maintaing a building. It’s a gross inefficiency that most ministries don’t truly need. By not having property to hang at, maintain, or pay for… the church is able to focus much more attention on their actual ministry.

2. Low-tech service. If you are used to high production church you’ll be shocked to see how simple the services are at Harbor. Seriously, shortly after arriving at Harbor a couple of staff asked me to get involved helping them catch-up. My counter-point to them is that a pretty, produced service has little net gain for the amount of time invested in making it great. I’d rather them stay focused on what makes the church great than get distracted in trying to get pretty. It’s 90 minutes of people’s lives each week… to people in the pews it’s not nearly as significant as people in church leadership think it is. I’m glad to see that Harbor continues to keep the worship service in perspective and keeps it simple. (Yet powerful in its simplicity!) Moreover, I think a lot of churches think their worship service change lives and over do it. If there is one area of regret from my time in church ministry its that we wasted so much time producing a worship service. I kick myself for that all the time.

3. Preaching rotation. This is something I greatly appreciate about Harbor. You see, the lead pastor is very gifted. I’d put him on par with most of the people we bring in at YS events. And yet Stephen’s main ministry is not preaching. It’s leading the church and ministering to the people. If Stephen concentrated on preparing 50 sermons a year the churches overall ministry would suffer. A major reason we’re seeing so much success is that when he shares the pulpit with other qualified people he essentially has created an additional part-time position at the church! I wish more preaching pastors gave up the pulpit at least once per month for the sake of the church ministry. At the end of the day, life-on-life ministry has  long-term impact while up-front preaching ministry tends to have short-term impact.

What are ways that you could re-evaluate your ministry to get lean and mean in the ministry season to come?





2 responses to “Going lean and mean”

  1. Dan Smith Avatar

    Adam, thank you for this post. Very interesting. I’m in San Diego too (US Navy) and I want you to know that I valued your idea on technology (#2) so much. Thank you for honestly putting things in perspective!

    Best wishes!

  2. Daniel Griswold Avatar

    Great read. I’ve often struggled with this growing up, because I knew that the tree outside the church often was a more beautiful place to worship than the gym with basketball hoops on either side that we worshipped in. I have a romantic idea of open air preaching that once was a staple of the traveling American preachers. They had nothing but travel expenses (food and lodging) and they were constantly meeting new people and building relationships on the road.

    Does that have implications for more stable/non-traveling ministries? I think it does, and as people push away institutionalized ministries in Gen-Y/Z – community will become the most important (and walls basically cover up the visible community – hide us from everyone).

    I think that more in-community events are needed. Like Capture the Flag events in neighborhoods. BBQ’s and service projects. Beach services, and anything that gets our community back into the community but also in ways that draws people out from the materialism of our culture.

    You’re right – flashy services aren’t going to be important in the long run. They may attract many young professionals – but they are a minority compared to the huge amount of people in this world we are trying to reach – and show them how amazing God’s kingdom already is when we let God’s principles and God’s love prevail.

    Thanks for the great article.

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