What to Do When the Ministry Becomes a Popularity Contest

I was never the popular kid, so when the ministry becomes a popularity contest, it makes my skin crawl. And oh yes, the ministry becomes a popularity contest more often than we’d care to admit. How?

People attend the most popular ministry events. Ministry workers jump ship to the more seen ministries, or to the ministries most of their friends are in. People tell you to do what other ministries are doing. People only care about your ministry when you do something big that turned their heads toward you. I’m sure you can list some more ways.

Some argue that the more popular your ministry, the more people come. And isn’t that a good thing? Not on its own. Have you ever had a ministry attended by a lot of people, but not one person ever stuck around for good? Not one soul was saved. Not one person started attending church. Not one connection was made. You put in so much (time, money, energy) with no results. It’s disheartening, and when we enter the contest, that is what happens.

So when the ministry becomes a popularity contest, what should we do? Consider these things:

1. Follow where God leads you.
Always follow God. It’s easy to cave into the pressure, especially if the pressure comes from other church leaders or the pastors above you. Remember that at the end of it all, you’ll face God on your own, and “So-and-so told me to do this-or-that” just won’t cut it with Him. It’s an excuse and you know it.

I know it’s tough. I’m not telling you to stand your ground like it’s the easiest thing to do in the world. When our church was figuring out our stance on Halloween, I took the toughest road. I did the research. I prayed and fasted. I knew where God was leading me to go, but I waited, asking if it’s His leading and not mine. Don’t celebrate Halloween or alternative events like Harvest Night – yeah, I didn’t like that.

Personally, I can handle it. But for the ministry, TOUGH is an understatement. I faced opposition and still do. After all, other churches and Christians are celebrating. Why not us? I can present Bible verses, safety statistics, and up-to-date research, but the most honest truth is this: I don’t know God’s most ulterior motive. For this point in the history of our church, this is what He wants and I’m the one who needs to carry it out.

Whatever it is that you’re facing in your ministry, it’s your responsibility to carry out God’s will because He is the one who placed you in that ministry. It doesn’t have to be easy (most likely won’t be) and it doesn’t have to make sense to everyone (most likely wouldn’t). You’re not supposed to win the popularity contest. You’re supposed to follow God wherever He leads you.

Don't win the popularity contest. Follow God.

2. If you can turn the tide, turn it.
Redemption stories are the best. After all, we’ve been redeemed by Christ! When God redeems something in the ministry, it’s awesome! And there are some things that God redeems.

Halloween wasn’t it for us. Easter egg hunts may be it. We used to have big Easter games and an egg hunt, but now we don’t. Mainly because we don’t have the space, but we’ve also cut down on the games because Easter had become just that for the kids: games and candy. The story of Jesus’ redeeming work was lost on them.

Someone asked why we didn’t have an egg hunt this year. It’s a popular Easter activity. We haven’t had it in a while, but the tide is turning. We’re moving into a family ministry and part of that is to make our events family-centered. Next year, we hope to have a family Easter celebration where all activities – yes, even the egg hunt – point to Jesus.

Popular events for the sake of popularity don’t work. But if an event that is aligned with your ministry’s vision and goals turns out to be popular, then praise God! If you can turn the tide on a popular event so it points to Jesus, do it!

3. Nurture the relationships you have.
People leave for all sorts of reasons including popularity. Maybe someone else or another ministry is more popular than yours. Or maybe you’re unpopular like me because you expect too much like required background checks and training :-).

It may hurt (or it may be a sigh of relief!), but look around you. You’re not alone. Nurture your relationship with the people who are still around. Your time is better spent on them than on hurt or anger at the people who left.

And when you find yourself literally the only one left in the ministry, you are still not alone. God is with you. Nurture your relationship with Him and with the people you serve. It’s a tremendously hard season, but it’s a season. God will give you the strength to do His will, whether internally or through other people.

4. Don’t listen to bandwagoners.
There will be bandwagoners, people who jump into your ministry wagon because you’re doing something popular (or because they have a romantic interest on someone in your team). I’ve had them, I’ve listened to them, and I’ve learned my lesson when they wrecked the ministry. It’s my fault for listening, but I was so excited for the support! Ministries are so parched for volunteers that any kind of help is water to our souls.

In my experience, bandwagoners don’t contribute anything. They may help for a while, but only give half-baked effort or don’t finish what they started. They have a lot of ideas and advice, but don’t want to put in the work. They leave when the going gets tough or when spotlight moves away.

If you listen to bandwagoners, like I did, you’d end up cleaning after them, which is what I had to do. Now, as desperate as I am for volunteers, if someone expresses a desire to join the ministry, I tell them to show up and help out. Vague, but it weeds out bandwagoners. Those who stick around go through the process of joining the ministry.

I do work with kids, so there’s a process. But whatever your ministry is, put everyone in a process. Bandwagoners will soon fall away, leaving you with committed people who are ready to step up.

When the ministry becomes a popularity contest, don’t get swept up. Follow God every step of the way. Make sure your popular events/activities point to Jesus. Invest your time in the people who stick around, and don’t listen to bandwagoners.

What do you do when your ministry becomes a popularity contest?

3 thoughts on “What to Do When the Ministry Becomes a Popularity Contest

  1. I’m so glad I found this page. It’s “sign-up” time again for our church small groups. As long-time small group leaders, I am beginning to feel like it’s a popularity contest. For 4 weeks we stand at a table so church members can meet all of the small group leaders and decide if they want to sign up for our specific day/time. If a leader’s sign-up list is blank, or only has one or two names, it feels discouraging and disheartening. Maybe this is just the work of the enemy trying to distract me from where God is leading me. MY QUESTION: Is there a better way to do sign ups that doesn’t feel like a popularity contest?

    1. Hi Jennifer, thanks for stopping by! That’s a great question and I’ve found that the best way to get people to join you (in small group, in ministry, in anything) is to ask them personally. Pray for God to reveal to you people you could impact the most. Maybe they’re in a season of life that you’re in or you have gone through. Maybe you’re doing a themed study that would most benefit a certain age group. Hand out personalized invitations or approach them individually. And if you only get one or two, invest in the few. God sees your faithful heart, don’t despair!

I'd love to hear from you!