2 True Tests for a ‘Relational’ Ministry

Many declare, “We do relational ministry.” That’s good. But some who declare it don’t really do it.

When people claim to do relational ministry they often explain that their ministry is based on authentic relationships. Sometimes they add, “We’re about people, not programs.” That’s good–when it’s true.

How can anyone determine if a church’s claim of a relational ministry is, in fact, legitimate? I’ve discovered a revealing, sometimes painful, test. It’s simple and straightforward. And it demonstrates if a church truly values people above other earthly priorities.

The test comes in two bits. And, interestingly, neither bit happens on Sunday morning.


The first test happens before you even step onto the property. You’ll know a church is relational if it makes it easy–or even possible–to connect relationally through normal means. When you call during normal hours, someone actually answers the phone. Or, if an answering machine must take the call, someone promptly returns the call. And, if you attempt to connect through the church’s website, the ministers’ email addresses are easily found. And someone promptly responds to your inquiry.

Sadly, I must report when my team members and I try calling churches, we very frequently encounter unanswered phones or recorded messages that warn, “Our message box is full.” That’s not a relational ministry.

And, sadly again, we see so many churches–small and large–that do not provide ministers’ email addresses. I guess they’re too busy or too important to be bothered with common people. That’s not a relational ministry. (For Pete’s sake, even the White House website provides an email path to contact–the President of the United States.)


The other test happens after a member decides to part ways with a church. If a ministry is truly relational–woven by relationships–the member’s departure from the official meetings does not extinguish contact. The ministers and members continue to relate to the resigned person–because the love of Christ lives in relationship, not in dues-paying membership.

I’ve witnessed this test turn out both ways. In some churches, once a person stops attending, I’ve seen all communication and interaction cease. It’s like the resigned member has contracted a contagious disease. In other churches, I’ve seen church staff and members continue to communicate and get together with departed members, and relate as friends.

This test separates those who view members as numbers, from those who view members–and ex-members–as brothers and sisters.

Truly relational ministries relate–as the Body of Christ.

12 Responses to “2 True Tests for a ‘Relational’ Ministry”

  1. “Truly relational ministries relate–as the Body of Christ.” And in the Body of Christ there is no division based on church membership. Every member of the Body of Christ is connected to every other member (as family) regardless of nationality, race, denomination, language, or income level. When we come together, listen to the Spirit, and do what He says, we begin to experience the highly relational, New Testament concept of ekklesia based on 1 Corinthians 14:26.

  2. “It’s like the resigned member has contracted a contagious disease.” This suggests active avoidance which may be an issue in some cases but in actuality I think the outworking of this is a good deal more passive.

    My wife and I have been experiencing the effects of test #2 for the last 18 months. We left a church of nearly 30 years after getting entangled in a toxic leadership conflict involving the firing of an associate pastor. We did not make a mess on our way out the door by standing up in meetings or writing nasty letters to the leadership, but rather made an effort to preserve relationships.

    But I don’t even need one hand to count the number of contacts that we’ve had from those we used to attend with where we didn’t first initiate (I’m not including pseudo-relational nonsense like Facebook likes, follows, and comments).

    It’s not that we are being avoided. We’re just out of sight and out of mind. Which is an eye-opener that suggests something about the nature of the relationships we had while we were there.

  3. Thom On #1, for gen-y millennials and others, the web site must be current and easy to navigate…..the 8 second rule. If one of the links is “site not found” that ends the whole relationship immediately with the response of “delete”. If in June some of the banner announcements for Easter are still on site the client will just shut down.

    re: “8 second rule”, in the last 20 years sales leaders say that the attention span for a prospective client has decreased from 13 to 8 seconds……the new generation wants info immediately and will just tune you [or a web site out] if you go long over 8 seconds. Notice news stations on TV, the news bites are quite short now for that reason. Guess that means in another 20 years we are down to 3 seconds and approaching no attention spans ?



  4. Re: Test #2 — the term “members,” if used, should primarily be understood as referring broadly and spiritually to Christ’s Body, not to a list of locals in the “in” group. No matter how relational the religious club, it can still be just a club that’s all about its own membership and leadership hierarchy, and that makes it difficult to comprehend and actualize the Body in other clubs, the Body in various small groups, the Body at large. . . .

  5. Roy commented on Facebook: “I had to visit churches during the week as a part of my position working with a Christian ministry. I would often have to stop and regroup (no pun intended) at the end of a day. I found so many church offices to be cold and sterile to an outsider walking in. I was treated like an intruder and a suspect before I even had a chance to introduce myself. Staff members were sheltered by well meaning church secretaries who looked at me as someone undesirable. I guess I didn’t fit into their “vision”. I would often go away glad that I had not been coming off the street for any spiritual help!”

    • Maureen replied on Facebook: “As a church secretary, I am sorry you were treated that way. I personally do try to make the office warm and welcoming. Having said that, however, part of my job (and most church secretaries) is to filter requests for our pastor(s)’ time. If you were coming off the street for spiritual help, at our church you would receive priority access to any available pastor. However, if you come in selling something or as a representative of a parachurch ministry, you likely won’t get past me. Why? Because we want our pastors to be free to help the spiritually seeking who come in off the street. They can’t do that if they are tied up with an unannounced salesperson, even if what you are selling is another Christian ministry.”

  6. So good. So true.

    When I first read the headline, I thought maybe you were addressing the “Dones” mentioned in a previous podcast who often say that their approach to life and following Jesus is “more relational.”

    It would be nice to do a follow-up episode about whether or not that claim is actually true?

  7. Jean Dager at Media Spotlight Reply June 22, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Thank you, Thom, for your insights. Coincidently, I read David Wilkerson’s daily devotion the same day concerning God’s relationship with the Church. I personally believe the relationship is with the individual brethren and not with the institutional “Church.” Wilkerson quoted Eph. 5:31-32 where Paul equates marriage to God’s relationship with the Church and also quoted Isaiah 59:2 concerning separation caused by sin. He wrote: “Where do we see this separation today between the Church and God? I see it most obviously in compromised mainline churches. Yet I also see it in the soft-pedaled gospel of post-modern churches. It is evident that there has been a separation from God’s manifest presence. Indeed, it has happened just as Jesus and Paul prophesied. Many have become lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God—having a form of religion with no power; despising the gospel of their fathers; tearing down the old moral landmarks; changing God’s infallible Word to suit the times. I challenge you to go to any city, from church to church of every evangelical persuasion. Try to find one where you recognize the awesome, manifest presence of Jesus, where you encounter His heart-melting conviction. When the Lord is truly present, you recognize it, whether in the singing, the preaching, or the fellowship. Something stirs your soul, and it produces an awe and a reverence. In My experience, this is rarely found. I am not condemning modern-day churches; God forbid. But may the Lord help us if we don’t have His manifest presence in these last days. And because of the compromise of such churches, He has had to hide His presence from them for a time.”

    I think David’s message is one we need to hear today. Our “relational ministry” to one another will be the natural result of our relationship with the Lord.


  8. Thinking back…
    I believe (and practiced/practice) having friendships within the church. It makes it hard to leave, but that’s a risk we take. It’s not just the “face” of the church or its website that has to be relational. It’s that the church is not a professional entity. You’re not entering a doctor’s office where they’ll ask you if you have insurance. You’re coming to a place that you should be able to call “home” as soon as you walk in the door. This does need to be unobtrusive, otherwise you’ll project a “smothering” feeling, but a friendly handshake, a pot of coffee, water available and bathrooms that smell nice, along with kind, helpful, friendly staff…these are just the beginnings. I’ve been in many churches where I’ve asked to speak to “a pastor,” only to be told they have no time for me. In defense of the pastors, it’s often true. They are doing something else, and an appointment is needed. However, it’s often that “people bother me; they mess up my day.”
    Sorry, Charlie–you’re in the people business. How much time do you think Jesus took from HIS day to be with people?
    To be a good pastor, you have to love people. It’s that simple. And that hard.

  9. In #2 with leaving members, different personalities will leave differently. Me personally as an introvert never develop deep close relationships but with a very select few or even just one person and that person may not even be a member of the church. I’ve left churches but more jobs than churches and both are the same. I never kept contact with anyone, church or job. The older I get here, the harder and longer and farther and few between are people I actually get emotionally close to. As an introvert that has a lot of alone time for the fact my wife often works opposite hours, I’ve grown and adjusted to keeping myself busy alone. I am not lonely either. My very very social work place wears me down. I very seldom go out after work at going away get together events. I sit there board listening to everyone else talk and would rather be off doing my own thing alone. Others at work just get off on social events. I dread going to them. I go when it is someone from my immediate group leaving or retiring, but that’s it. I don’t purposely choose to not connect with people. I’ve always been this way. Crowded places, stadium events, bars, or large get together events are just not my thing. I do them occasionally that ends up a reminder as to why don’t do them often. What ever, it’s just me. I am that I am.

  10. Sadly, many of the comments above sound like they’re dealing with a business instead of The Body (of Christ).

    Maybe that’s the problem.

  11. It all boils down to one thing. Does the system serve the people or do the people serve the system?

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