FREE AGENT CHURCH….from organizational loyalty to project-based ministry

Freeagent I have finally decided to read a book that has long been on my reading list by Daniel H. Pink called Free Agent Nation:  The future of working for yourself.  What strikes me is that our culture is indeed moving away from the experience of working 30 years at a company where the supposed quid pro quo of mutual loyalties brings pensions and tenure.  Now, many work for themselves and those talented in high tech fields or sales often telecommute.  What the author calls “Tailorism” is in contrast to the “Taylorism” or the organization man the previous generation thrust on us as an ideal.  In other words, self-expression and independence were sacrificed for a secure life that the corporation would give you, including living in a suburb with people just like you.

Our current megachurch models seem to be about providing more for you while you lose your self in it.  I am not going to bash megachurches, but actually make a case for how they can be relevant.  The best big churches, in fact, seem to foster a climate where people are not cogs in a wheel who have to be loyal to the celebrity pastor but are places that are savvy in todays culture.   These successful churches seem to understand that our volunteer organization we call a church can better be served with the free agents that populate our pews rather than demanding they fit into a traditional top-down structure.

The old way is to design your ministry teams in a hierarchy with the intent that “alignment” results.  However, often people feel stifled and we end up rewarding those that serve our churches programs rather than those that create ministry on their own.  The difference is having an agenda imposed rather than inspiration delivered to the incredible talent within your own church.

Saddleback Church, a church for years I have watched closely and have some knowledge of, is a model for entrepreneurship.  Just read about Celebrate Recovery.  I remember a while back while attending one of the Saddleback Conferences I went to a nearby coffee shop where the salesperson with a smile noticed our conference badges.  She went to Saddleback was proud of her church.  But, it wasn’t her desire to talk about their celebrity pastor, it was her story of how she started a ministry to single moms.  This is what she in essence was saying:  “I love my church since I am my church and this is what I am doing at my church…”

At my church, Sunridge Community Church, I have found the free agent idea working.  There is a ministry called “The Brook” where people in our church decided to reach out to homeless and down-and-out people in a city park in Temecula, California.  The inspiration came from the pulpit but this was not a church program.  People in a small group decided on their own that they needed to do something and designed a project.  From what was an experiment, an on-going grass-roots ministry exists.  In a lot of churches, forms would have to be filled out. These free agent believers simply did what they could.  What people can do, especially with the Spirit of God, should blow us all away on a regular basis.

The challenge is to structure values and deliver inspiration and to empower people rather than attempt to structure systems that control people.  Really, this is what volunteers who are talented, motivated and godly want:  to be free to live out their dreams and express them with a chance of making a difference. What they don’t want is an environment that makes them more micromanaged than there 9-5 work.

The free agent church is a good idea.  I am trying to do ministry like never before.  The goal is to see the talent of individuals and put together teams of people who have chemistry and let them and program projects rather than long-term commitments.  For instance, my choir is setup so that you can sing in it all year, or you can join any or all project-styled sessions.  The assumption is that people travel, have fluid work environments and yet somehow love to serve and use their talent for the church.  For many, this is not a commitment issue as far as being unwilling to sacrifice.  Often, I find because so many view their church involvement as an “all or nothing” ordeal that they would rather excuse themselves from service than not keep a commitment that they are unsure their lives could not manage. Those that thrive in today’s ministry seem to be able to structure themselves as free agents.

Let me summarize my thoughts a bit:

  • Our society is moving work from organizational to project-based structures.
  • Megachurches can be a good example of the future, even though many struggle with truly empowering their volunteers.  Smaller churches usually survive this way, anyway!
  • Inspiration is better than institution.  Drive people to a goal and dream, let them figure out how to get there and keep them inspired on the way.
  • Move ministry teams from static groups to a project management model. This allows for people to do what they are good at and succeed, rather than being micromanaged.
  • People do not necessarily have a loyalty or commitment issue other than not wanting to fail.  We need to design the structure into something people can see will actually work.

Another article that is related to this that I wrote:  Crowdsourcing: a new way to look at church volunteers.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

32 comments

  1. Hey Rich,I have been reading your blog for a while and just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it! This is an especially good blog. I am a worship arts pastor in North Carolina and I am finding that what you are saying is so true. We put people in this box where they have to commit there entire lives to being at church doing ministry every week with no room for their lives to breathe at all. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    -Rob

  2. Hey Rich,I have been reading your blog for a while and just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it! This is an especially good blog. I am a worship arts pastor in North Carolina and I am finding that what you are saying is so true. We put people in this box where they have to commit there entire lives to being at church doing ministry every week with no room for their lives to breathe at all. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    -Rob

  3. Hey Rich,I have been reading your blog for a while and just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it! This is an especially good blog. I am a worship arts pastor in North Carolina and I am finding that what you are saying is so true. We put people in this box where they have to commit there entire lives to being at church doing ministry every week with no room for their lives to breathe at all. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    -Rob

  4. Hey Rich,I have been reading your blog for a while and just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy it! This is an especially good blog. I am a worship arts pastor in North Carolina and I am finding that what you are saying is so true. We put people in this box where they have to commit there entire lives to being at church doing ministry every week with no room for their lives to breathe at all. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    -Rob

  5. BRILLIANT!!! I just can not say how great it is to have you as our leader not only in worship but in our church and community. You hit the nail right on the head. Thanks again Rich for seeing things outside the box.

  6. BRILLIANT!!! I just can not say how great it is to have you as our leader not only in worship but in our church and community. You hit the nail right on the head. Thanks again Rich for seeing things outside the box.

  7. BRILLIANT!!! I just can not say how great it is to have you as our leader not only in worship but in our church and community. You hit the nail right on the head. Thanks again Rich for seeing things outside the box.

  8. BRILLIANT!!! I just can not say how great it is to have you as our leader not only in worship but in our church and community. You hit the nail right on the head. Thanks again Rich for seeing things outside the box.

  9. My first visit to your blog. Thanks for describing so well one of the reasons most churches have trouble finding volunteers — they expect people to loyally meet the organization’s needs, and they’re not focusing on helping people figure out and follow the specific ways God is calling them to serve. Even when a church “gets it,” it’s very hard for churches (and denominations) that are 40+ years old or more to do things differently. It’s a huge challenge for the church today but your article is a reminder of its importance for the life and health of the church.

  10. My first visit to your blog. Thanks for describing so well one of the reasons most churches have trouble finding volunteers — they expect people to loyally meet the organization’s needs, and they’re not focusing on helping people figure out and follow the specific ways God is calling them to serve. Even when a church “gets it,” it’s very hard for churches (and denominations) that are 40+ years old or more to do things differently. It’s a huge challenge for the church today but your article is a reminder of its importance for the life and health of the church.

  11. My first visit to your blog. Thanks for describing so well one of the reasons most churches have trouble finding volunteers — they expect people to loyally meet the organization’s needs, and they’re not focusing on helping people figure out and follow the specific ways God is calling them to serve. Even when a church “gets it,” it’s very hard for churches (and denominations) that are 40+ years old or more to do things differently. It’s a huge challenge for the church today but your article is a reminder of its importance for the life and health of the church.

  12. My first visit to your blog. Thanks for describing so well one of the reasons most churches have trouble finding volunteers — they expect people to loyally meet the organization’s needs, and they’re not focusing on helping people figure out and follow the specific ways God is calling them to serve. Even when a church “gets it,” it’s very hard for churches (and denominations) that are 40+ years old or more to do things differently. It’s a huge challenge for the church today but your article is a reminder of its importance for the life and health of the church.

  13. Without a doubt, the best ministry projects I’ve been a part of have originated and are driven by people in the pews. Still, I think there is a place for more church loyalty (maybe not institutional, but in some form). It’s like a marriage. I see too many modern folk involved in serial-church-relationships. As a result, they tend to lack the commitment that would contribute to genuine community.

  14. Without a doubt, the best ministry projects I’ve been a part of have originated and are driven by people in the pews. Still, I think there is a place for more church loyalty (maybe not institutional, but in some form). It’s like a marriage. I see too many modern folk involved in serial-church-relationships. As a result, they tend to lack the commitment that would contribute to genuine community.

  15. Without a doubt, the best ministry projects I’ve been a part of have originated and are driven by people in the pews. Still, I think there is a place for more church loyalty (maybe not institutional, but in some form). It’s like a marriage. I see too many modern folk involved in serial-church-relationships. As a result, they tend to lack the commitment that would contribute to genuine community.

  16. Without a doubt, the best ministry projects I’ve been a part of have originated and are driven by people in the pews. Still, I think there is a place for more church loyalty (maybe not institutional, but in some form). It’s like a marriage. I see too many modern folk involved in serial-church-relationships. As a result, they tend to lack the commitment that would contribute to genuine community.

  17. It’s a great outlook on big churches. I feel like sometimes our church is proud of the fact that it is small, yet they want to grow big. This seems strange.

  18. It’s a great outlook on big churches. I feel like sometimes our church is proud of the fact that it is small, yet they want to grow big. This seems strange.

  19. It’s a great outlook on big churches. I feel like sometimes our church is proud of the fact that it is small, yet they want to grow big. This seems strange.

  20. It’s a great outlook on big churches. I feel like sometimes our church is proud of the fact that it is small, yet they want to grow big. This seems strange.

  21. Aloha,Very informative and engaging post, Rich.
    The experiences in the modern, progressive churches may be part of what Manuel Castells calls the network society. He wrote in his book, Power of Identity, about a new form of identity that he calls project identity. “Project identity: when social actors, on the basis of whichever cultural materials that are available to them, build a new identity that redefines their position in society and, by doing so, seek the transformation of overall social structure.”
    Moved by the church and it’s people, the ministries to the downtrodden do change society.
    Keep it up!
    Best Regards,
    Dan

  22. Aloha,Very informative and engaging post, Rich.
    The experiences in the modern, progressive churches may be part of what Manuel Castells calls the network society. He wrote in his book, Power of Identity, about a new form of identity that he calls project identity. “Project identity: when social actors, on the basis of whichever cultural materials that are available to them, build a new identity that redefines their position in society and, by doing so, seek the transformation of overall social structure.”
    Moved by the church and it’s people, the ministries to the downtrodden do change society.
    Keep it up!
    Best Regards,
    Dan

  23. Aloha,Very informative and engaging post, Rich.
    The experiences in the modern, progressive churches may be part of what Manuel Castells calls the network society. He wrote in his book, Power of Identity, about a new form of identity that he calls project identity. “Project identity: when social actors, on the basis of whichever cultural materials that are available to them, build a new identity that redefines their position in society and, by doing so, seek the transformation of overall social structure.”
    Moved by the church and it’s people, the ministries to the downtrodden do change society.
    Keep it up!
    Best Regards,
    Dan

  24. Aloha,Very informative and engaging post, Rich.
    The experiences in the modern, progressive churches may be part of what Manuel Castells calls the network society. He wrote in his book, Power of Identity, about a new form of identity that he calls project identity. “Project identity: when social actors, on the basis of whichever cultural materials that are available to them, build a new identity that redefines their position in society and, by doing so, seek the transformation of overall social structure.”
    Moved by the church and it’s people, the ministries to the downtrodden do change society.
    Keep it up!
    Best Regards,
    Dan

  25. Pete:
    Yes. Loyalty is a good thing and hard to measure. I think serial church hopping is unfortunate and puts the church in a competitive mode for people–either to attract more or keep more. That is not always a good focus when there is a mission to galvanize people around and it turns out to not be the focus of the people in the pews all the time.

  26. Pete:
    Yes. Loyalty is a good thing and hard to measure. I think serial church hopping is unfortunate and puts the church in a competitive mode for people–either to attract more or keep more. That is not always a good focus when there is a mission to galvanize people around and it turns out to not be the focus of the people in the pews all the time.

  27. Pete:
    Yes. Loyalty is a good thing and hard to measure. I think serial church hopping is unfortunate and puts the church in a competitive mode for people–either to attract more or keep more. That is not always a good focus when there is a mission to galvanize people around and it turns out to not be the focus of the people in the pews all the time.

  28. Pete:
    Yes. Loyalty is a good thing and hard to measure. I think serial church hopping is unfortunate and puts the church in a competitive mode for people–either to attract more or keep more. That is not always a good focus when there is a mission to galvanize people around and it turns out to not be the focus of the people in the pews all the time.

  29. Dan:
    Thanks for your comments. Castell’s book sounds a book worthy to look at as far as this discussion is concerned. Aloha back to you!

  30. Dan:
    Thanks for your comments. Castell’s book sounds a book worthy to look at as far as this discussion is concerned. Aloha back to you!

  31. Dan:
    Thanks for your comments. Castell’s book sounds a book worthy to look at as far as this discussion is concerned. Aloha back to you!

  32. Dan:
    Thanks for your comments. Castell’s book sounds a book worthy to look at as far as this discussion is concerned. Aloha back to you!

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