Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Project Management as a Ministry Discipline

Project management has been part of my work in church and parachurch ministry for decades. While I have been aware of project management as a professional, certified discipline, I have gone about the work mostly as an informal practitioner. I have used the tools of the profession for years, going all the way back to the MS-DOS version of Microsoft Project, and more recently, of course, using cloud-based tools. My MBA studies alluded to the profession, but there was not a specific focus on project management. I have been satisfied to approach the work intuitively and informally, never all that interested in further study or pursuing a certification.

 As I am considering the next season of my career, realizing that I have project management skills and success, and recognizing the satisfaction I enjoy from the work, I have been doing a deep dive, with certification (PMP) as a goal.

 It appears that there are a lot of opportunities in the field… but landing a project management job may take me out of church or parachurch ministry since there do not appear to be many career opportunities for project managers in ministry. Which brings me to the question, “why not?” It seems to me that ministry is well suited to formally apply project-management tools and leverage skilled project managers.

 It could be that church and para-church ministries would do well to consider how bringing skilled project managers to their organizations would fill vital roles on ministry teams. Many ministries are sufficiently complex to benefit from certified project managers. Others might consider contracting with project managers, while still others should at least consider how to apply proven and standardized project-management principles and techniques.


Much of ministry success is a result of successful projects. Launching new ministries, revitalizing legacy ministries, capital campaigns, new construction, renovations, reworking governance… the list could go on and all fit within a project-management framework. Merely casting this work in project-management terms can yield huge benefits as the framework clarifies vital components including: scope, stakeholders, risk, roadblocks, timeline, budget, decision making, systems, quality, and outcomes.

Body of Christ

A project-management approach aligns with the way the New Testament describes the Church. Project management is people centered, organizing and enabling teams comprised of people with a variety of skills, resources, and perspectives.

Consider the way the Apostle Paul described the Church:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body…

God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body…

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it
(1 Corinthians 12:12–31)

One body with purpose, comprised of many parts. Perhaps project managers serve as part of the central nervous system, coordinating the work of the various parts.


A project-management approach can be a vital tool in accomplishing further directives regarding the work of the Church.

Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–13)

I am confident that most every ministry has underutilized people longing to bring their best to the work of the body. In my experience and observation, we usually do a good job of empowering teams of employees to accomplish work, but we are often far less skilled at utilizing non-employees. We are good at utilizing non-employees for non-skilled or low-skilled work but struggle to find ways for non-employees to bring their highly skilled, and most valuable, work to our ministries.

A project-management approach, resourced by skillful project managers, can provide a framework to best leverage volunteers. Furthermore, using standard project-management approaches, tools, and language can facilitate fast and productive onboarding of high-capacity volunteers. When our ministries use the same tools, approaches, and terminology as people find in their workplaces, they can jump right in with their meaningful contributions. 

It seems far too common that high-capacity volunteers are disillusioned because ministry leaders are not prepared to help volunteers succeed with their best contributions. We may want their money and low-skilled labor, but we may fail at utilizing their expertise. Well planned, resourced, and executed projects can provide a place for volunteers to thrive.


Project management should result in a leaner system with less waste and higher productivity. Sure, project management is administrative overhead, but when done well the investment of time and resources in project management should yield results that far exceed the costs. Simply leveraging high-capacity volunteers doing their best work in merely one area in which professional project managers can prove their value.


When we are clear on desired outcomes, agree on parameters like timelines and budgets, marshal the right people and resources, and manage to those goals, our projects, of course, are more effective. The first stated principle in PMI’s Standard for Project Management is stewardship. This, of course, aligns with Christian values as we understand our responsibility to care for the people and resources placed in our hands.

Jesus put it in these terms:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit (John 15:8) 

There is, of course, wild fruit… but the most fruit, much fruit, is the result of teams of experts planning, cultivating, and gathering harvests. Skilled, careful project management results in effectiveness.


Consider a few examples.

Assuming that we are on a path of continuous improvement, the planning for our Sunday Services can fit nicely into a project-management approach. Specifically, since the outcomes are periodic (weekly in this case), such weekly planning would fit into an agile approach, with weekly sprints. The team would work with a log of ideas and elements for potential implementation over the course of time. In large, multi-campus churches the list of elements and personnel can be complex and extensive.

A project-management approach could effectively bridge the gap between the high-level, long-range goals for improvement and the week-to-week planning (the sorts of things a lot of churches tackle with a tool like PlanningCenter which alone is not project management but more of an operations apparatus).

Another example, perhaps more specific to educational ministries, is accreditation. The processes to achieve and maintain accreditation demand a project-management approach.

Achieving accreditation (or certifications, permits, and such) calls for a predictive or waterfall project management approach as it usually requires multiple teams generating a long list of documents and reports over months with a deadline.

Maintaining accreditation has also been a periodic waterfall, producing similar documents after a period of years. Many agencies are now shifting to a system of continual improvement for ongoing accreditation which likely better fits an agile approach.


Your Feedback

I am looking for feedback as I am just getting started with all of this. Do you have any observations? Perhaps you have success stories in which ministries have used project managers or formal project-management approaches. I would love to hear from you!

No comments:

Post a Comment