3 steps toward breaking down ministry silos
Photo by Veronika Balasyuk
“I believe in growing young, but I’m having trouble getting others in my church on board.”
As I coach church leaders who want to better engage young people, this hurdle seems to come up most frequently. Well-intentioned leaders (especially youth and young adult leaders) lament the difficulty of convincing their fellow leaders that their church needs to grow young.
This challenge is not just a reflection on the leaders themselves. In fact, several of them have been standout leaders of the youth or young adult ministry. They’re highly skilled at preaching faithful messages, recruiting and caring for volunteers, loving the young people entrusted to their care, and crafting regular communication to parents.
But managing change within a complex system? Not quite what they majored in.
After having countless coffee meetings with other ministry leaders, huddling for times of prayer, and seemingly banging their heads against a wall of resistance – many have expressed that it might just be easier to keep the work of growing young isolated within the youth or young adult ministry. However, our deep conviction at the Fuller Youth Institute is that this is not the best move.
Instead, for a congregation (including the young people) to gain the full benefit of growing young, it is essential to embrace the challenge of taking this conversation to other ministry leaders and the overall church. In fact, I’m encouraged that the vast majority of leaders we’ve worked with are pushing through and doing just that.
In the process, we’ve found one of the biggest challenges to overcome is conquering the silos that so often dominate our ministries and churches.
What are ministry silos and how can we move past them?
Patrick Lencioni, best-selling author and management consultant, describes silos as “nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.”
You can bet silos are alive and well in your church when you find yourself battling with other ministry leaders for volunteers (as opposed to thinking through the best fit for that volunteer based on his or her gifts and interests), caring more about weekly attendance numbers in your own ministry than the overall thriving of your congregation, or perhaps praying the worship leader in your church gets a new job offer so you can finally make some updates to music. The list could go on and on.
To break down silos and move the work of growing young from a youth ministry conversation to the overall church, here are three practical suggestions.
Step 1: Recognize silos are there for a reason.
The silos in your church did not appear out of nowhere. Chances are that they are in place because they have been helpful to your church in the past. Indeed many of our churches have intentionally built age and stage based ministries that are designed to work as silos.
Challenging them is likely not a simple or short-term assignment. As you consider next steps, ask yourself the following:
How do these silos benefit (or seem to benefit) our church?
Further, what would it cost the leader or person I’m working with for them to give up this siloed approach?
How do I as a leader reinforce this siloed approach?
Step 2: Assume silos (probably) aren’t personal.
Lencioni writes, “In too many of those companies leaders who are frustrated by the silo mentality mistakenly attribute it to the immaturity and insecurity of employees who somehow just refuse to get along with one another.”
I’ve heard ministry leaders accuse others in their church of not caring about young people, of being lazy, deceptive, and out of touch with the times, or simply not caring about the good of the overall church. The common theme is that all of these accusations assume another leader operates in a silo for personal reasons.
Instead, what might it look like for us to assume the best of other leaders within our church? To give them the benefit of the doubt that they care about their ministry area and the overall church just as much as we do? Might we have to be honest that there are times where we’ve put the good of our own ministry area ahead of the good of the overall church?
The work of growing young as a church will require empathy – the ability to step into someone else’s shoes. Given this is a core commitment of growing young and something your church needs to develop for young people, consider taking the time to develop it yourself toward other leaders in the church.
Step 3: Take a step back and think big picture.
Lencioni identifies the key to breaking down silos as developing a thematic goal. He describes this as “a single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team – and ultimately, by the entire organization – and that applies for only a specific time period.”
In an ideal circumstance this thematic goal and move toward breaking down silos would be initiated by the top leadership team at your church. If that’s not currently taking place, consider what diverse group of leaders from different ministry areas you might be able to gather and rally around a common goal.
Since many churches include some version of “making disciples” in their mission or vision, might it be possible for you to meet with several other leaders to discuss how this collaborative disciple-making might be possible in your church? Instead of leading with your desire for the church to grow young, lead with the desire to make disciples across the overall church body. When the opportunity arises, be prepared to share—empathetically—how growing young can be good for the whole church (see Growing Young pp. 39-42 for a refresher).
Want to lead change? Put it on the calendar.
The leaders who shared that they struggled with getting others in their congregation on board are indeed breaking down silos. How? By creating focused time for the work by putting it on their calendar.
Your efforts to grow young this upcoming year will undoubtedly involve work that impacts your youth and young adult ministry calendar, volunteers, teaching topics, and more. We don’t want this busyness of daily ministry to swallow your efforts to grow young. Right now consider setting aside a key hour or two sometime this week to invite other ministry leaders in your church to be part of this conversation.
Practical insights on leading and thriving with young people
 While our team would affirm there are several aspects of growing young that are best located in youth and young adult ministry, overall we contend that this is a discussion for the whole church. The purpose of this post, however, is not to convince you that this is a bad move, both strategically and theologically. For a more nuanced discussion of the strategy, I would encourage you read Growing Young. For a discussion on the theology, I recommend some of the great work on the topic by Kenda Creasy Dean or our Fuller colleague Chap Clark’s work on Adoptive Youth Ministry.
 Patrick Lencioni, Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 175.
 Lencioni, 177.
 Lencioni, 178.