Inefficient ministry

Inefficiency has to be part of our church life existence!

Part of surviving in a busy world is to eliminate inefficiency. The more efficient we become the more we can get done. This makes so much sense.

And so we streamline our meetings, our relationships, our times together so that we can make the most of time. After all we mustn’t squander our precious times together.

Families and friends

The problem with eliminating inefficiency is that inefficiency enables relationships to develop in deep ways. Friends just ‘hang’ together – spending time in the same space with each other with no particular agenda. And this permits the relationships to chart their own course and give experiences that build for the future.

In families, it is possible to eat meals ‘on the run’ and so feed the body the energy required to keep going, sitting down together creates family memories, allows us to engage in each other’s lives and it enables us to enjoy each other’s company.

What happens is that scheduled time gets tasks done efficiently, unscheduled or inefficient time allows relationships to be lubricated.

A story

Some years ago I recall having a weekly Christian meeting that we were all expected to be present at 3:00pm, but the meeting never formally began until 3:40. It did not take long for the participants to realize this and so they began arriving at 3:40. A couple of weeks later, the group convener read the riot act to us all for our tardiness. When we complained that we did not do anything until 3:40 he replied that the first 40 minutes was the time where we related to each other as brothers in the faith. If that was lost we would unravel as a ministry.

Reflecting back, these events taught me a number of things.

  1. Relationships are a web of complex interactions and so unstructured time is the best way to develop relationships
  2. Unstructured time is not a waste of time
  3. People need to know and perceive the value of unstructured time and why it is provided. (Not beginning till 3:40 was not tardiness or poor organization, but a deliberate blessing.)
  4. Despite the benefits of unstructured time. structured time must be used efficiently in order not to waste people’s time when they are being given to a task.

For churches

I want to say two seemingly conflicting things as we think about our gatherings as believers.

  1. Be organised and disciplined when we meet for formal purposes so that people know they are achieving what they set out to achieve, whether in our church meetings, small groups, parish councils or Sunday Schools
  2. Also create a space for unstructured, inefficient time in every gathering so that people can just be humans in company with one another and ensure we help each other to know that such a thing is a great blessing. For example morning ta is not just for quenching thirst, it is an opportunity to build deeper relationships. 
Archie Poulos is Head of Ministry at Moore Theological College and Director of the Centre for Ministry Development.

Comments (3)

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  • Dave Moore
    September 25, 12 - 10:28am
    It might be worth considering the difference between inefficient and ineffective. "Doing" relationships with others always feels a bit inefficient. But its worth asking if the *way* those relationships are being developed is effective.
    Most families dob't simply "hang-out"... they take the opportunity afforded by a meal, and rather than doing it on the run, they make good use of it and do relationships over the meal.
    Telling a group of people to just come and hang-out for 40mins seems like a pretty ineffective way of building relationships.
    Give them something to do together, like a meal or setting up church, or making meals for other people, or sunday school, or wrestling with a passage of scripture together... I wonder if that helps build inefficient relationships more effectively? :)
  • Chris Little
    September 25, 12 - 10:52am
    I've long thought that efficiency is most significant for unimportant things (changing the light bulb, etc). Inefficiency is required for the truly important (hanging around with group members, ...).
  • Robert Denham
    September 25, 12 - 8:36pm
    Hi Archie,
    I wonder if you have used the right word for the concept you are describing. Is the term "inefficient" a suitable term, or would it be better to call it "unstructured" or some other word like that?
    I can identify with the need to let people have time to develop relationships. This can happen with a united goal, such as a working bee where people take time to chat as they achieve a task, or it can happen over a cuppa. I can imagine a very routine-oriented cuppa, where 17 sips of a cup are all that is necessary, so it is policed that way (like having 32 chews on every mouthfull, including ice cream) but that regulated, co-ordinated, micro-managed cuppa would work against the relationship-building activity we would want (except to build up a group so frustrated that their dreams of escaping unite them).
    With Dave, I agree that it would be much more poductive if the 40 minute time was called share time or get-to-know-your-everyone-here-time...