If you are familiar with international missions strategy, then you have probably heard people talk about entry and exit strategies. Most good international missions has both an entry strategy, a means of starting work in a new area or with a new people, and an exit strategy, a means of leaving that work to move on to another area or people. These concepts are important for local churches here in North America as well. Churches naturally get the need for an entry strategy. After all, you have to start somewhere. However, too often, churches begin ministry without considering where it should end.
In short, exit strategies imply that good ministry is working yourself out of a job.
To be clear, having an exit strategy for a specific mission is not claiming that churches should get to the point where they do no ministry in their area. It is not assuming that churches should not have ongoing ministry to their community. A church should, however, design specific missions efforts with a clear outcome. Churches should regularly do local outreach and local ministry, but they should always do it with a desired outcome in mind. Your goal affects your outcomes, and too often a local church starts a project with no idea where they are aiming.
This often leads to establishing ministries without clear purpose. Ministries without purpose can quickly become traditions without meaning. When this occurs, churches will do the same programs for years, and eventually they are doing them because they “have always done them.” These ongoing programs are perpetuated with little consideration as to whether they are effective at making disciples or advancing the gospel. If we plan our ministry with an exit strategy in mind, then it affects our methods during the ministry.
A good exit strategy is not based on a rigid timeline. It does not say, “We will do this for six months and then stop.” That is time-oriented not objective-oriented. Additionally, a good exit strategy does not leave a work half-finished. If the goal of local church ministry is making disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching to obey all that Christ has commanded (and it is, by the way), then every ministry in our church should be aiming toward that end. Local outreach efforts should use methods that enable the proclamation of the gospel and the equipping of new disciples to also become disciple makers. An exit strategy considers how this ministry will then be released to these new disciple makers.
In international church planting strategy, good exit strategy works toward planting churches that are: self-supporting, self-propagating, self-governing, and self-theologizing. In other words, these new works should be able to run themselves, lead themselves, financially support themselves, and teach themselves the Word of God. While all local church ministry in North America is not church planting, I am convinced much more of what we do should look like this. Churches in America should see church planting as an important, and perhaps primary, means of gospel proclamation and outreach. We need to move from a spirit of competition to one of cooperation for the gospel. And even when a local church ministry is not directly planting more churches, it should still strive for some of the above outcomes. Our local outreach should be formative, creating disciple makers, not weak adherents to Christianity.
Without an exit strategy discipleship stalls.
Discipling ultimately moves people past feeding to teaching. Without an exit strategy, the process of discipleship is stunted when people are not raised up to do ministry themselves. If good disciple making is working yourself out of a job, then any healthy ministry attempts to make its students into teachers. A clear exit strategy puts objectives in place that facilitate this process. Perhaps it is periodically allowing students to teach and facilitate study. Maybe it is dragging some disciples along with you as you do missions, so they can witness how it is done. Whatever the methods, the exit strategy provides a gateway for the students to first be fed, then learn how to self-feed, and finally to feed others.
Without an exit strategy work rarely becomes multiplicative.
The Great Commission is accomplished through multiplication, multiplication of disciples and multiplication of churches. Without an exit strategy work is rarely multiplicative. The good fruit of adding people to your number is often taken as the end result, but that is only additional ministry. When a healthy exit goal of multiplication is set, then the church pushes toward that end with all of its ministry. Asking the question, “How does this ministry multiply gospel witness in our city?” aids a church in thinking past growing to multiplying.
Exit strategies will multiply small groups in a church, because the goal becomes self-propagating small groups. Exit strategies multiply churches when they begin seeing the complex diversity of languages and cultures in their city and try to get a gospel witness in each group. These churches realize that one church cannot reach a city, and they plant churches and eventually exit the work in order to move into a stage of partnership.
Without an exit strategy the church spreads herself thin.
Finally, without exit strategies, churches overextend their membership in the service of long-standing programs instead of gospel outreach. If church outreach programs are not designed to reach a goal, they can becoming long-standing traditions that require maintenance. This pattern causes churches to add one program after another, always attempting to reach people, but never evaluating other things they are doing. Instead, evaluate each program against the end goal of making disciple makers and multiplying gospel witness. Some programs may not cut the mustard, and these should be discontinued even if they are a longstanding tradition. Others may need to be tweaked to reach a healthy objective. Whatever the case, think about ministry with the end in mind, and lead your church members to work themselves out of a job when it comes to the Great Commission.