The other day I was walking in the grocery store and passed by a spill. Like one of those "cleanup on Aisle 2" spills. It was everywhere. And I overheard the staff talking about needing extra cones to keep people from walking through the spill. The reason? "If you don't put them up, they'll just walk right through it." That night, I made sure to fold the ironing board before vacuuming the floor. I didn't want the ironing board blocking where I was trying to clean.
Barriers have a positive and negative effect in ministry. Barriers have a positive effect in that they keep us on track and moving forward. But they have a negative effect when they stifle growth or ministry function. I want to give a couple advantages of barriers and a few problems (and solutions) for barriers.
Barriers help us determine priorities in resources, budget, staffing, and purpose - No church, no matter the size, can do everything. No car, no matter how well made it is, can drive through a construction site or jump an overpass (no matter how many times you saw the movie Speed). Barriers help us think about what's most important to us as a ministry, and to plan accordingly. If we know we can't go somewhere, it helps us identify and prioritize where we can go.
Barriers keep us grounded in our convictions - Hopefully your church has some form of a confessional statement or statement of belief. Those form barriers to keep your church in line with your conviction of the teaching of Scripture. We might have some disagreement on the particulars, but we can all agree that we should act in accordance with our stated beliefs. Those become a standard for membership, for leadership, and for guiding the church through doctrinal issues. But they also keep us grounded in the practice of our convictions. Those barriers determine the lines you have drawn: whether they be your schedule to ensure you're keeping your family as a priority, or your opinion on who and where you'll counsel, or how you determine access to your facility. Healthy barriers can lead to healthy practices.
Barriers can stymie growth - I have a love/hate relationship with tables. I like having one because I have a coffee cup attached to my hand most of the day, especially on Sundays. But I loathe tables because they limit how many people can be in a group. When we have physical limits, we're limited in what we can do. So we have to decide what we'll do with those limits. If you're limited in seating in a classroom, you can do one of two things: 1) You can multiply the group by forming a new one and allowing them both to grow, or 2) You can yank the tables. Same thing with worship seating. If you come up to the limit of your capacity, you can: 1) Build a new building, or 2) Go multiple services. However you decide to move, you need to take those barriers out of the equation.
Barriers can be clutter - Clutter in a church sends a message of carelessness. It tells visitors and members that we don't really care about our facility, so we don't care that there is clutter. Barriers form when you're not allowed to take "that picture" off the wall or remove the parlor and turn it into an open fellowship area. When we clutter our space, we limit the movement of people. And when we clutter, we let people know we're not really that interested in company. Remember your mom getting a call that Aunt Sally was coming over? You cleaned the house. You expected company. So take that copier that's sat in the corner for years and throw it out. Take the dusty prints off the wall and replace them with something more ascetically pleasing.
Barriers limit possibilities - When we put up barriers and don't take them down, we're limiting our possibilities. For some churches, it's a facility barrier (you build an area that has a single purpose). For others it's a staffing model (you've always had Minister of X). Still others it's a style or approach or methodology. Whatever your barrier is, it's limiting your possibility. As long as you think you still need the Minister of X, you'll never think about what could happen if you combined X with Y. Or that there is only one correct way to organize your worship service. If you don't believe that's an issue for churches, change things around and see how that goes! Instead of working with your barriers in place, adopt a mindset that it's not just ok to try but it's ok to fail. Not everything will work. But we shouldn't let that stop us from trying!
What other things would you say about barriers? Their good? Their bad? How can you fix them?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.