Any healthy forest has trees of different sizes.
Seedlings from decades past eventually grow tall and help the legacy of the forest live on by dispersing seeds of their own. If the distribution of new life stops, the forest has begun to die.
Strategies, methods, beliefs, and target audience make up a local church’s culture or DNA. Shelves of leadership books address the importance of having the right DNA in your organization. Worship ministry is no different.
DNA can encompass the “why” and the “how” of ministry. Some how-DNA will change with time such as music styles or methods. Other why-DNA will remain constant such as the centrality of Jesus (Galatians 1:6–9). Even though how-DNA may change, it’s still essential to define and defend what you want it to be now.
Replicators, Not Receivers
The worship stage is an essential platform for communicating DNA to the church, so teach those on stage to be replicators (think big trees) of your DNA, not just receivers of it (seedlings). Replicators are those who don’t just get the task done, but explain the vision behind what’s happening adding leadership momentum and coverage. Replicators lead their sphere of influence in seeing the greatness of Christ by doing what God has called your church to do.
Vision leaks (every 30 days according to some leadership gurus) so rain vision continually. People forget the why of your ministry long before they forget how to meet the expectations. Without why-DNA, leaders are left with the imperative to obey but without the truth that empowers obedience (2 Peter 1:3). This is dangerous to the soul and the ministry.
"Fresh vision rooted in the gospel helps minimize attrition and collapses."
If you don’t create and manage your church’s DNA, you’ll waste valuable energy redirecting and repairing rather than progressing.
Replicating the Right DNA
1. Decide which hills you will die on.
What doctrines and philosophies are non-negotiable? Don’t drench your worship volunteers with different vision each week. Land on the core things you want them to live and breathe. Be careful of assessing participation in some areas but not others (e.g. valuing a band member’s musical abilities while overlooking a lack of a servant-like heart).
2. Start at the front door.
Make sure volunteers understand what’s important to you from the very start.
Whether you have a formal audition process or not, make sure everyone in the forest you oversee knows the DNA. Anyone putting roots down needs to be briefed with a chance to ask questions.
3. Create touch-points that make sense.
Establish a system of touch-points (meetings, hang-outs, videos, emails, blogs, etc.) between you and key leaders at regular intervals where you intentionally include DNA conversations (see worksheet below). Every system has a shelf life, so ask trusted leaders when a system needs patching, and when it needs an overhaul. Keller’s article on how communication is affected by church size is pertinent here.
4. Assess current leaders.
If you hear someone say something on stage or in a conversation that doesn’t reflect your DNA, pull them aside privately and help them understand why what they said may lead to confusion. Ask them to repeat back the “why-DNA” and “how-DNA” in their own words.
5. Call the fire department before the forest burns down.
Many people won’t confess that they have lost sight of the vision or that they are wrestling with sin until something explodes because of a lack of understanding of the gospel (Proverbs 28:13). Frequently invite everyone in the forest you oversee to say something when smoke appears, and teach them what smoke looks like (loss of traction in victory over sin, burnout, and relational breakdowns).
6. Don’t make DNA a weapon.
Your church’s DNA is likely a mix of biblical mandates, opinions, and specific callings for your church body. Don’t encourage (explicitly or implicitly) the bashing of other camps that do things differently. Good things are happening that aren’t your things, and that’s ok.
7. Be a replicator yourself.
If your leaders don’t understand their role or can’t articulate why you do things the way you do them then you haven’t done your job. Pray for God’s leading in establishing your church’s DNA. Invite the Spirit to lead changes to methods when needed. Work hard at equipping and caring for the whole forest, new seedlings and established trees alike.
This is a downloadable PDF that includes an outline for leading a meeting or conversation covering DNA issues and a worksheet for developing your ability to connect how-DNA to why-DNA. Customize the resources to fit your context and address the DNA elements most important to your ministry.