5 Steps to Transition Your Church or Ministry from a Cruise Ship to a Battle Ship

5 Steps to Transition Your Ministry from a Cruise Ship to a Battle Ship

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Do you remember back in March when toilet paper across the country was sold out?

People who were accustomed to using a brand-name two-ply TP suddenly had to be okay with generic one-ply version.

As they say, beggars can’t be choosers, right?


Well, I came across an article that explores another effect that this pandemic has had on the marketplace. IHOP trimmed its menu from 12 pages to only 2 pages. An executive at the restaurant explained, “We didn’t lose any big menu categories; we just trimmed across the board.” Basically, they cut the items that didn’t sell as well as others.

Of course, some customers complained, but in our brave new world, the cuts had to be made in order to keep IHOP open for business.

Harley-Davidson has started manufacturing fewer of its motorcycle models. Hershey’s is adjusting their offerings as well. Niche products, like Lay’s lightly salted BBQ chips, are also going away.

A spokeswoman for Kraft Heinz said, “We’ve adjusted our operations to be as efficient as possible – and in some cases, we’re making fewer varieties of some products.”


This season has made one thing clear: We no longer have the luxury of trying to give everyone everything they want.


Don’t lament that fact. It’s actually long overdue.


All the way back in 1996, Max Lucado wrote, “[The Church] is no cruise ship; it’s a battleship” (source: In the Grip of Grace).

I’ve heard many pastors say similar things over the years. And yet, not much changed. One pastor told me he felt like he was rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What did he mean? He was keeping everything going and everyone happy while the church was slowly dying.

By the way, if that’s how you feel, I encourage you to watch my YouTube Video: “Do You Work at a Dying Church?

Change is inevitable.

So, if nothing else, this pandemic has forced our hand. Change was always inevitable. Uncomfortable, but inevitable. We can’t do ministry in the 21st century as if it’s still the 20th century.

Now, change isn’t just inevitable; it’s mandatory. The axiom, “Change or die” seems more true for churches than ever. IHOP, Harley-Davidson, Heinz, and Hershey’s all figured that out. I hope our churches figure that out too.



This isn’t a doom and gloom post. I’m confident that God will carry the Church (notice the capital “C”) through this season. Perhaps there will be long-term addition through short-term subtraction.


If I were in your shoes, leading your ministry, I would do 5 things immediately…

5 Steps to Transition Your Ministry from a Cruise Ship to a Battle Ship

1. Look at your calendar.

This is not complicated. List all of the programs, events, outings, meetings, camps, and trips that fill up the schedule during a normal year.

2. List your objectives.

Next to each item that you’ve listed, write the objective you have for doing it. Why is this item on the calendar? Why do you spend time and/or money on it? How does it help your ministry point students to Jesus? Write it down.

3. Make sure you’re balanced.

As you go through your calendar and note your objectives, pay attention to areas that feel bloated. Ideally, you’ll have a balanced ministry that is capable of engaging crowd students in relationship, equipping community students with discipleship, and empowering core students for leadership. Are all three of these priorities reflected on your calendar?

4. Rate each program’s effectiveness.

It’s no secret that some of the things you do are more effective than others. You know it. The students know it. Everyone knows it. At this point, just use a scale of 1-5 and rate each item on the calendar with reference to its objective. In other words, look at each thing and ask, “How effective is this for what it’s supposed to accomplish?”

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5. Apply the Pareto Principle

In this step, you want to remove the least effective items from the calendar. According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of what you do produces 80% of your results. Figure out which 20% of your efforts are having the highest return on investment. That’s where you want to focus your time, energy, and resources during this season. Make those things as good as they can possibly be.

This final step is the crucial step that many youth pastors are afraid to take. Don’t be afraid to take it. First of all, your church hired you to lead the ministry. Leadership requires you to make hard, good decisions.

Also, you can’t do everything that everyone wants you to do. It’s not possible. Every time you say yes to something you’re saying no to something else. The pandemic has forced your hand. Like it or not, you have to think more strategically, starting now.

Your Move

You don’t need me to tell you that everything has changed. The question is, What will you do about it? Church engagement is declining, budgets are shrinking, and resources are thinning. You have to do more with less.

Welcome to the new normal.

In the new normal, ministries that were accustomed to operating like cruise ships, offering everything to everyone, will have to shift. They’ll have to become more lean and agile than they were before. Cuts will have to be made.

People will complain. They always do. But don’t let that deter you.

Focus on the things that bring out your best. Put your efforts toward the few things that really move the needle for your ministry. Dedicate your finite resources to the small number of things that propel your ministry toward its objectives.


What about everything else?

Leave it behind as you chart your new path into the future.


Let’s chat in the comments: What will you leave behind?

Suggested Resource

From Crowd to Core by Trevor Hamaker

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Trevor Hamaker (DMin, McAfee School of Theology) is an author, adjunct professor, and youth ministry coach. He helps youth pastors see their potential, develop their skills, and reach their goals.

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