7 Steps for Killing a Program

Youth Specialties
November 30th, 2015

We’ve all been there: You come to a new church and find out there’s a program you have to oversee that you really don’t understand. It had a purpose when it first began, and perhaps it filled a need for a period of time, but now it’s not relevant.

So how do you kill it?

When I came to my church, I inherited a really great middle school ministry that had strong attendance on Sunday mornings but only saw about 8-12% of that attendance on Sunday nights. Volunteers ran it (my position was empty for a long period of time), and they mainly played dodgeball with the students and shared a devotion. The kids who came loved it, and for a few of them, it was their only outlet in the church. But it became apparent that a lot of my time was going into something that was only reaching a small portion of our students, and there was pressure to do more for the greater population within my ministry. I knew I had to kill this program.

Here are the steps I followed and suggestions for how to adapt them to your circumstances:

  1. Live with it for a period of time. It’s important to live with a program for a while if you’re new to a church and you inherited the program, because it can teach you a lot about a church’s culture. It can also teach you about a set of needs that were once present—or even about needs that are still present but unmet. Don’t be hasty—there may be a need for tweaks rather than the full kill.
  2. Begin gauging the need for change. Sometimes we think we know best as leaders, but what’s best to us isn’t always best to the consumers of our programs. When I realized we would probably need to kill this program, we began our process by sending out surveys and hosting forums for our weekly leaders and parents of students. We were able to reach about 75% of the families on our roster, which was beyond my expectations and a huge win—not just for this project but also for getting to know families better.
  3. Be sensitive to emotions. Be careful with the language you use and the way in which you talk about the program. When I decided to kill my Sunday night middle school program, what the families who benefited from the program heard was that their kids weren’t enough for me. Each program has people who put time, resources, and their kids into it. When we kill a program, we have to be sensitive to those who participate in it.
  4. Promise a replacement . . . or better yet, an upgrade. We were only eliminating something in order to create room for something that would better fit our students’ needs. Even if ministries are trying to eliminate in order to simplify programming, it’s important to promise that the resources that were once going into this ministry are being appropriately allocated.
  5. Cast vision (using their vision). When we finally cast our vision for the next thing in ministry, we made sure to reiterate that this was actually the families’ vision for this ministry. We quoted the survey results, used stories from the forums, and got the families who were part of the old program involved. We were sensitive to the fact that families feel as if change happens constantly and that this new thing would only be new for a season before the next personality introduced something. We wanted to show them that this wasn’t a product of my personality as their leader, but instead it was a product of their wants and needs. This really sold the vision.
  6. Educate leadership. One thing we discovered was that when we made one change, people who had not been involved in the past got involved. Part of this was that we were so thorough when we made the change that it involved people whose voices were not previously a part of the conversation. We made sure that our senior leadership and/or whoever would be impacted by this change knew why we eliminated the program. When we began our replacement program, I talked about it in several different venues, got it on the calendar a year in advance, and told stories after the first launch. Educating leadership will also be important when—not if—someone pushes back. Not everyone will like your changes—and that’s okay. But making sure the other staff know how to field questions will really help you look as if you know what you’re doing.
  7. Be confident in your decisions . . . and reevaluate after a while. You did it! But this isn’t ever the end. After you launch your new thing, reassess it to make sure it truly fits the needs of families the way it was intended to. If not, don’t immediately kill it—make tweaks until it succeeds.

What is some advice you have for people who want to kill a program?

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heatherlea_squareHEATHER is a Junior High Director in Indianapolis, working with a talented and diverse team of staff and volunteers. Heather has the privilege of writing on various youth ministry platforms across the interwebs, but you can find her blogging about her life in ministry over at HEATHERLEACAMPBELL.ME.

Youth Specialties

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