The Common Failure of Churches to 'Cut the Fat' in order to Excel

Kevin Hendricks had a post on the CMS blog recently that is worth repeating here in its entirety. I agree with Kevin in his assessment that many churches do many mediocre things and few excellent things.

One of the contributing factors to mediocre ministry is the failure of churches to evaluate and then, in appropriate instances, remove ineffective ministries or ministers. Often this failure is the result of the close personal relationships that exist in church ministry. Pastors and elders and ministry directors often share their lives with one another in uncommon ways, and it is difficult for church leadership to fire someone.

A second factor that leads to multiple ministries that survive rather than thrive is the inability of the leader to hold fast to the vision when everyone around you is asking for "this or that ministry." Pastors can easily be lead away from the original vision when they get caught up in making people happy. It is not easy to have someone tell you they are leaving your church to go to another one that has a Wednesday night kids program; especially if that person is a large giver.

Everybody's been talking about the amazing new iPhone this past week. As you can imagine, it holds a few lessons for the church.

But first comes 37signals' prediction for the iPhone, posted hours before the iPhone debuted:

Apple makes history not by leapfrogging everyone in terms of functionality and bells and whistles, they do it through elegance, simplification, clarity, and practicality.

I see no reason why they won’t follow that strategy with their phone. It will change the game, but not because it does more than everyone else’s phone. I think we’ll see just the opposite.

Apple will execute on the basics beautifully.

And while Apple has crammed all sorts of stuff into their phone (video, music, Internet), they did do a massive simplification (no buttons?!) and come June we'll see just how beautiful it is.

For the church the obvious lesson is to excel at the basics. Calvary Fellowship pastor and blogger Bob Franquiz shares a similar point in an unrelated entry reviewing Al and Laura Ries' The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding:

Narrowing your focus allows you to be known for something that you do well, rather than having a 100 things you're mediocre at.

Most churches try to do too much. Everyone says that, but no one pulls the plug on anything they're already doing.

Just like most cell phones are a nightmare to use because someone insisted there be a camera button and a volume button and a speaker phone button until there are so many buttons you don't know which one to push to answer the phone--churches can often be overcome by trying to provide too many ministries.

We need a worship team and a drama team and a children's ministry and a youth minstry and a college ministry and a young married's ministry and a couples ministry and a sensitive-yet-lame name for the old folk's ministry, and a justice ministry and a men's ministry and a women's ministry and a Hispanic ministry and it's no wonder it's all a little overwhelming.

Franquiz's church sticks to five things they're good at:

  • Sunday service
  • Children's Ministry
  • Student Ministry
  • Small Groups
  • Couples

Even that list may be a lot for some churches. But the point is not to add ministries if you can't do them well. What's the point of a lame youth ministry? To placate the parents? And in the process you do a disservice to the church because resources are going somewhere where they're not being used as well as they could be and everything else suffers. Nevermind the disservice you're doing to the youth. People would rather have an amazing Sunday morning service and no youth ministry than a so-so Sunday service and a so-so youth ministry.

This principle of simplicity is worth keeping in mind for every venture the church does (and it's something 37signals talks about a lot). Every event doesn't have to accomplish everything. If the event is about evangelism--focus on that. Don't worry about discipling the few believers who show up along with their unsaved friends or talking the already converted into baptism. If you're trying to evangelize, then evangelize. Don't do six other things and dilute your message, your resources and your impact.