Knowing when to pull the plug


Not long ago I did something I hadn’t done since college. I pointed my browser to Myspace. I had heard about how it had gone through a major redesign to coincide with owner Justin Timberlake’s new single, and a combination of curiosity and nostalgia led me to check it out.

Once I got there, I was only able to glance at the front page without signing up, so I ended up reading about the experience at a couple of different websites. After my morbid curiosity had been sated, it struck me that – even after a major redesign and a change in focus – I still couldn’t come up with one compelling reason to ever check out Myspace again. I didn’t find one niche that wasn’t already covered well, and I couldn’t help wonder why it’s owners hadn’t simply yanked the plug on it yet.

Unfortunately, all of our ministries have a “myspace” program. Something that seems too big, too entrenched, or simply too old to be done away with. We know it’s not hitting any valuable targets, we know it’s a drain on time and resources, but it seems impossible to kill. Maybe it was once a smashing success, and you keep hoping that with some work it will be a success again. Maybe it’s run by extremely dedicated volunteers who wouldn’t let you kill it without kicking and screaming. Maybe it’s a cherished part of the fabric of your ministry. Whatever the reason is, you know it’s not going anywhere, but it lives on.

Not long after I came to FCC, I had to sit down with people who ran a ministry through our church. The ministry had a great focus, and dedicated people leading the way. Unfortunately, it also was going to need a ton of involvement from me to survive, and it had never been able to affect very many kids. After a (incredibly) strange meeting with the program’s founders, I decided not to press forward with it. Understandably, there was some pretty steep immediate blowback. A couple of people were upset for quite a while, but it was something that had to be done. The program wasn’t realistically going to thrive in the future, and I didn’t have the time or ability to change that.

At the time, it all made me very nervous, but looking back I’m thankful I pulled the plug. In the end it saved me a lot of time, frustration and grief that would have come had I jumped in, only to shut it down a year later. I think it’s easy for all of us to justify keeping a listless program alive, but the truth is that the more we try to keep it going, the harder it becomes to shut it down. It’s like pulling off an old band-aid. It’s best to grip it and rip it, getting the pain over with quickly.

So my encouragement to all of us is to be bold enough to look honestly at our programs, and admit to ourselves which ones don’t truly have a viable future. Then, do what you need to shut them down. It may not be wise to do it all at once. You will probably need the support of your Senior Pastor or board members, so please don’t fail to lay the groundwork and cover your backside.

Then pull the plug, and find something great to do with the time and resources you’ve just liberated. Have fun!

What about you? Any tips on pulling the plug on a program? Please share!

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