The Funnel of Ministry: High Invitation Leads to High Challenge

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Is your student ministry focused on being attractional or transformational? Do you want to go wide and get a lot of kids? Or do you want to go deep and really teach and shape the students you have? Do we do silly events or evangelism? Water balloon fights or witnessing?

This is the dichotomy most of us live with in student ministry.

Do we focus on fun or formation?

The answer is simple–both–but the work of accomplishing both is hard.

I’ll confess that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the balance right in my time in ministry. But when I look at the life of Jesus, I see a guy who both attracted thousands and really transformed his disciples. Jesus knew how to meet the most urgent needs of people and how to bring about real change.

And if Jesus could do it, scripture tells us we can too (John 14:12).

The challenge is in framing a Jesus-shaped ministry for today. Keeping the formula, but updating the forms.

For a few years, I was blessed to work with a great crew of campus ministries in Kentucky. You can check out their work at ukcsf.org. UKCSF is a non-denominational campus ministry, but they are a shining example of ways that Wesleyans are doing innovative work off the traditional grid. Because campus ministry is an all-in, sink-or-swim, non-stop endeavor, the folks at UKCSF taught me some great principles that put vision & structure around a ministry that’s fun & formative.

The key is a model that moves from one to the other. Borrowing from UKCSF, this is the “Funnel of Ministry.”

The funnel of ministry is pretty simple. You go wide, then you narrow down as you go deep. Jesus fed huge crowds, preached from hillsides, spent intentional time with a smaller set of followers, really discipled 12 guys, spent even more intentional time with 3 of them, and then empowered them to replicate this pattern.

The wide end is focused on hospitality (in Greek, philoxenia = love of strangers). This means big outreaches that open up the life of the community to people who would never darken our door. Then proceeding, by steps, into teaching, discipleship, and mission. The movement is from high invitation to high challenge.

Here’s the diagram:

high challenge

At Christ Church, we filed everything we do under one of these headings, so we know what the focus is.

At high-invitation events like water balloon fights we know to keep the focus on welcome. In our teaching we try to ramp up the challenge as the year goes on and students get further down the funnel. But we start light and accessible. As student leaders emerge we pair them with older Christians for discipleship, and begin to challenge them more seriously. On mission trips we hold students to the highest standards we can expect. High invitation to high challenge.

The goal is to have a Jesus-shaped ministry that moves from fun to real formation. We don’t always hit our target, but we’re hitting it more now than we were before we had the vision. You rarely hit goals you aren’t aiming for. As Mike Breen says, “No one accidentally creates disciples.”

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Philip Tallon is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University, where he is the chair of the Department of Apologetics, and a faculty member of the Honors College. He is the author of The Poetics of Evil:Toward an Aesthetic Theodicy and co-editor of The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes (with David Baggett). He also has a new book coming out from Seedbed, The Absolute Basics of the Christian Faith. You can find him on Twitter: @philiptallon.

2 COMMENTS

  1. such a great framework. I work with Cru’s high school ministry and we essentially employ the same progression: Win, Build, Send, but the funnel is the perfect (can I say that?) visual to it.

    Thanks for posting something I’ll use

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