This week I continue with the second Essential for ministry growth: Reduce complexity to the point of quality.
I’m acquainted with a ministry that serves as the patron host to a series of focus ministries to children, ethnic groups, musicians, older adults, foreign missions (and others).
There is, however, little sense of alignment or cohesion among the groups. Everyone does their own thing under a common roof.
It’s messy, politicized and stagnant.
I know another ministry that takes the opposite approach, saying in effect, Everything we sponsor must align with our vision and values. This host is extremely picky about what it takes on. Thus:
- Alignment is tight.
- Structure is simple and manageable.
- Quality is high.
Boom! Nail on the head, Rick! That's the church I serve at: First Baptist Church of Sprawling. It is messy and polarized. And I think the small amount of growth we've experienced recently will fade quickly because we are too sprawling.
The problem for those of us on the inside is often that we are too close to the situation and are so busy trying to keep all the plates spinning that we can't see how sprawling we have become. Yes, morale suffers.
Part of the problem comes from being a multi-generational church in a time and place where you can pick a niche church. You can drill down through the lists, picking and choosing and discarding until you get the “perfect” fit – the praise band wears the right trendy clothes, cool lighting, a young cool “pastor” who only talks for ten minutes and may even slip in a curse word now and then for emphasis, a coffee shop in the foyer, shorts and flip-flops are not just fine but expected, service times that work for your life, no commitment required, nobody bothering you if you miss a few Sundays, and ne'er does a hymn appear on the screen (unless it's been properly punched up and with a catchy extra tag added).
It's difficult to compete with that, and churches that do often find themselves sprawling because they are trying to be all things to all generations. A contemporary church doesn't have to compete. They just go after their target audience. Everything I do has to be filtered with how different generations will perceive it.
If you say, “Let the contemporary church have all the young people,” you will naturally see your church die in a generation as that generation dies. In addition, the earning power is with the 20-50 year-olds. They DO carry the church, not the 65+. People on a fixed income cannot support the church the way working people can and do.
So come on, my friend. Tell me how to climb out of this sprawling hole.
Hey Mike, astute thoughts.
I don’t think of myself as a guru in these matters. Merely a traveler and observer of many ministries.
I believe the idea of “simple and high quality” applies as much to multigenerational churches as to any others. The hard part, of course, is getting to simple. (And by simple I mean elegantly so — structurally, not simplistic in teaching/content.)
It means assessing all departments for alignment with the main vision as well as for quality. Then, arduously, paring back. Without such “pruning,” the whole vine suffers.
This entire process requires courageous leadership. It ought to be done slowly and prayerfully.
I’ve been in this “hole” myself, Mike, as you describe, and found both failure and success.