Be Wary of the Silo Effect

Be careful about what you are constructing at the student ministry construction site. Without deliberate effort, you may accidentally be building a silo rather than a production plant. Some construction looks awesome and spectacular on the outside but turns out to be more of a monument than a manufacturing plant. While all silo building isn’t necessarily bad, it can become a real detriment in time. I don’t know of any credible student pastor who would deliberately choose to construct a student ministry storage facility over an adolescent Christian production plant. Without balance and purpose however, an adolescent disciple-making and manufacturing plant can accidentally be reduced to a silo or storehouse ministry.

What is a Silo Ministry?

A silo ministry operates more from an independent framework than from underneath the umbrella of the church as a whole. How you lead and implement your ministry in this regard is a major factor in evaluating healthy student ministry. A silo or tower style ministry does not look at itself as a slice of the pie. Silo leaders see their ministry as THE whole pie. But remember, you are not the whole pie, but only a slice of it. Albeit a very important slice and a slice which the church’s future success depends upon, but still only a slice.

The Positives

To be fair, let me offer a few strengths of a ministry that has a stitch of silo fiber woven into the fabric. First, a silo ministry encourages people to remain focused on a particular ministry. Second, it tends to bring people who are passionate about a particular ministry together. Third, a silo ministry ensures that a particular group is strong and thoroughly looked after. Fourth, a silo ministry leader knows precisely who he is to encourage, train, support, and supply.

The Negatives

Interestingly, the weaknesses of silo ministry emerge from extreme versions of its strength characteristics applied over time. For example, silo ministry can create an environment where the ministry and its leader is so busy looking after its own interest and building itself up that it loses touch with the pastor’s vision for the whole church. Also, if each individual ministry is determined to secure the best resources, recruit the best people, and secure its desired finances without equal concern for the greater body, then the whole church will eventually suffer. Rather than the church body working together in sync towards a church-wide vision, it dissolves into a dysfunctional organization with little to no conversation across ministry lines.

Another problem with silo style leadership is that the team you lead becomes more important than the team you are on. In this system, volunteers can become valued only for their ability and willingness to serve your particular ministry silo. This promotes a recruiting competition that becomes more concerned with bagging the best volunteer leaders rather than helping people find their best ministry match per gift and skill set.

Patrick Lencioni the author of the “silo” concept shares the following negative results from allowing such a ministry style to take root.

  • Unhealthy competition emerges
  • Jealousy creeps in
  • Hurt feelings pile up
  • Pride increases
  • Lack of trust grows
  • Fighting over limited resources
  • Foot-dragging on collaborative ideas
  • Politics establish priorities

How to Detect Silo Ministry

How can you tell if you are accidentally constructing a silo ministry rather than a disciple factory? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is filling a position more important to you than helping people discover their passion?
  2. Do you assign more value to volunteers in your ministry?
  3. Are you lobbying for resources that will only benefit your ministry area?
  4. Do invite input from other ministry staff to determine how your ministry event can also benefit their area of expertise.
  5. Are you collaborating with other ministers in planning, promoting, and executing a ministry happening?
  6. Do you involve the entire church by seeking and sharing prayer request when possible? If you do, the church receives the privilege of prayer, you get the credit for thinking of the senior adults and the youth ministry wins through supernatural prayer and practical promotion of ministry. Nothing can help your efforts more than an army of senior citizens who have time to pray for you, your students and your family. Also, they will likely spread the word of how “awesome” and thoughtful you are.

If you want to change, minimize or remove silos from your ministry, remember to build from the bottom up. Base your ministry foundation on unity, remembering that unity does not mean uniformity.

 “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)