If you are trying to restart your congregation, or jumpstart growth, what I’m about to share with you is hands down the single most important thing you need to understand.
I call this principle “The Three Buckets.”
The Three Buckets
Picture before you three buckets.
The bucket on the left is called the “Sunday Bucket.”
The Sunday bucket represents everything that needs to happen to make your Sunday worship services happen – adequate facilities, preaching, worship leading (including leaders, artists, tech, etc.), children’s classes (including teachers, assistants, registration, etc.), greeters, hospitality, parking, etc. I would also include the student ministry, which typically meets on a Sunday morning or evening.
The bucket in the middle is called the “Midweek Bucket.”
The midweek bucket represents anything and everything you’re doing outside of the Sunday experience – small groups, kids’ programming, different groups and activities, etc.
The bucket on the right is called the “Missions Bucket.”
The missions bucket represents all local, national, and international outreach. This includes everything from assisting your local soup kitchen to supporting missionaries around the world.
WATER = Available Resources
To the left of these buckets envision a pitcher of water.
Water represents the resources Senior Pastors have to deploy that enable the congregation they serve to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
Every Senior Pastor has four types of resources to deploy:
Since every church has limited resources, your job as the church’s Senior Pastor is to lead the way in determining both WHEN and WHERE your church will deploy their people, money, time, and energy in each of these three buckets.
How Stuck Churches Have Deployed They Resources
Whenever I coach Senior Pastors, I will lead them through an exhaustive analysis of where they are currently deploying their resources.
Inevitably, in every single situation, the Senior Pastors that I coach are leading churches that have taken their water and equally distributed it among all three of their buckets.
They will have poured SOME of their water (people, money, time, and energy) into making Sunday happen, but not all of it.
They saved an equal measure of water and poured it into their midweek activities.
Finally, they’ve poured an equal measure of water into their missions bucket.
Stuck churches almost always have equal measures of water in each of their three buckets, but none more than half full. Translated: they are do many things, but few well, especially the Sunday experience.
Filling One Bucket At A Time
The secret to creating growth is to pour ALL of your resources into the Sunday bucket FIRST.
Then, once the Sunday bucket is “filled,” meaning the Sunday experience is fully staffed, resourced, and done with excellence, then and only then does the water “spill over” into the midweek bucket. Imagine continually pouring all available resources into the Sunday bucket until it naturally begins to overflow into the midweek bucket.
The order of progression in effective outreach-focused churches is always Sunday first, then midweek, then missions.
The typical church does Sundays poorly, but still, thinking this is the best course of action, throws themselves into starting small groups, Awana, etc., all the while supporting 6-10 missionaries at $50 to $150 a month.
The result? They stay stuck. Why? They are ineffectively deploying their resources.
Listen, you have absolutely no business starting small groups when you can’t adequately staff your children’s ministry classes.
You know your worship services, and how they’re just terrible, right? But you keep complaining about how you don’t have the money to hire staff to lead in that area. Yet, you and I both know that you do have the money. It’s just being sent overseas.
You have no business supporting missionaries around the world when your worship service isn’t even remotely close to where it needs to be.
God has gifted that money to your congregation to reach your area FIRST. Then, once outreach and growth have been firmly entrenched, then, and only then, do you move into starting mid-week groups and activities for deeper growth. Then only after that bucket is filled do you send money overseas.
Not If, But When
That 10% of your budget devoted to missions that you so staunchly defend as almost biblical, that is just a terrible way to allocate resources, at least for right now.
For most churches, YOU ARE the mission right now.
That money you send overseas could enable you to hire a worship pastor or a children’s pastor, both of which would enable you to grow and give more on down the road.
For example, for the first 5-6 years of the life of Christ’s Church of the Valley, we did not give a dime to missions, besides an occasional Easter or Christmas offering,
Was I criticized? Of course. But I told people it was not a matter of if, but when.
At that time WE WERE the mission, and consequently we poured ALL of our resources into the Sunday bucket. Then, as that bucket was filled, it naturally “spilled over” into the midweek bucket.
Once both of those two buckets were firmly filled, we started to fill the third bucket with reckless abandon.
We COULD HAVE started to fill the missions bucket early on, giving a token amount of money to various missionaries. This would have quieted the people in our church who grew up thinking that giving 10% of your offerings to missions was found in the Bible somewhere.
But that would have been a horrible mistake. Instead, we stayed focused on our plan.
Now, over a 10 year period of time, we will have given over $1,500,000 to rescue at risk children in Kenya and Haiti. We just finished helping start our 6th church in India, and are laying the foundation for starting our third church in El Salvador. This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands we have given to various domestic church plants and international projects.
An important thing to point out is that we were fully staffed and resourced in the first two buckets before we dove into those activities.
Tsunami or Trickle?
The decision you and your church leaders have to make is whether or not you are content with managing trickles of advancement, or do you want to create a kingdom tsunami with your congregation.
If you’re stuck, it is more than likely because you’ve allowed time, tradition, bad advice, and internal resistance to keep you from allocating your resources in a tenaciously focused manner.
All your “water” is evenly divided among all your buckets, and I guarantee you’ve grown used to thinking that this is the way all churches do things.
Trust me, it’s not.
The sad news is if you stay the way you are, instead of leading the charge in courageous kingdom advancement, you will eventually oversee the funeral of your community of faith.
Keep deploying your resources the way you are and eventually you will close your doors or the kingdom-minded people in your church will all leave.
How To Move Forward
If your congregation is stuck, here is what I suggest you do – whether you are a church of 50 or 1,000.
- Perform a three bucket audit. This is a great activity for leadership retreats. Gather your leaders and draw three buckets up on a whiteboard, then write down every single activity in which your church engages. Place each of those activities inside one of those three buckets. Then, take your budget and put individual budget expenditures inside one of those buckets. Some will have to be split into two or three buckets. Finally, put how many hours each staff member exerts into activities in each of those buckets. What you’ll see when you’re finished will shock you.
- Make the bold decision to temporarily suspend all missions support and cancel all your mid-week activities. Will people get angry and leave? Not if you patiently teach, cast vision, and manage the process of change well. The few people who do leave, needed to leave anyway.
- Pour all available resources into filling up your Sunday bucket. I would hire a worship leader first, then a children’s director. For those who are strapped for cash, I tell them, “Never underestimate the power of 50 bucks.” Go hire that college kid or that stay-at-home mom for $50 a week. After I had those two positions in place, I’d hire someone to lead youth. Then a very part-time finance bookkeeper. Then I’d circle back and work on bringing each of those positions up from $50 a week, to half-time, then to full-time. Once you have those positions in place I would hire an adult ministry staff member, again for $50 a week, and then go out and launch groups.
- Meanwhile, start “super groups” with staff and leadership team members only. Now obviously you have to offer something for people besides Sunday, if for no other reason than because your converts need to be discipled. That’s why the only groups that I’d have while you are filling the Sunday bucket would be what small group thinkers call “Supergroups” – groups of 25-75. You as the Senior Pastor need to lead one of those, as well as any staff or leadership team members you have. These need to be new groups (since you’ve shut all your mid-week groups and activities down). And they need to become vision-casting incubators for new group leaders, so that once the Sunday bucket is filled you can launch into filling the midweek bucket with a small group explosion.
- Don’t put a timeline on when you will restart your mid-week bucket and missions bucket activities. The day you move from red light to green light status is when your Sunday bucket is filled – meaning you have your staff and volunteer base in place. I’ve seen some churches do this in as little as a year. Most take 2-3 years. You are aiming for the complete redefinition of your church culture, not ticking off a few key performance measures.
- Strike hard and fast. The goal of temporarily reallocating your assets is not to be able to finally afford a paid worship leader by killing all missions support. It’s to kick the doors of hell down and launch a revolution. If you do what I suggest and still remain stuck, it’s usually because you, the Senior Pastor, are trying to change the congregation without simultaneously changing yourself. You must engage in the five things that never leave a Senior Pastor’s plate (leadership, preaching, evangelism, generosity, and personal growth) with equal speed and force. It’s the difference between managing an organization and going to war.
Lead well friends, and know that I have your back.
What objections do you foresee fielding from your church leadership as you propose utilizing the three buckets as a guiding reorganizational principle?