This is Part 7 (and the last) of a blog series on Creating Continuous Growth in Your Church.
Every church leader facing a growth barrier desperately wants to break through, because every church leader, including me, desires a growing, thriving church. Not because church attendance is the only measure of success, but because increasing attendance is proof that people are being reached.
Here is a question I’ve begun to ask: What if instead of just breaking through a specific barrier we were able to barrier-proof our church? Pause for a moment and imagine never hitting a growth barrier again.
I believe barrier-proofing is possible for every church in any denomination, and that’s exactly what we are going to evaluate in this blog series.
I have uncovered 6 specific ingredients to create continuous growth in your church. In this post, we are going to look at the fifth ingredient:
Ingredient 6: MAINTAINING A CLEAR FOCUS
In this last post, we are going to evaluate the most simple, yet counterintuitive ingredient to creating a continuously growing church.
Here’s our starting place: Logically, the more we offer at our church, the more needs we can meet. The more ministry we provide, the more people we will attract. If we offer Upward Sports, we can attract the recreation crowd. If we offer VBS, we’ll reach children outside of Sunday. If we have a Men’s ministry, we’ll get more guys to eat pancakes and pray together. If we offer Women’s ministry, we’ll give ladies a place to belong and do life together. We have to offer Sunday School, because, well, we’re a church! We need softball and basketball teams for adults, because where else will men recreate? And we have those fields out back, too. We should probably have a food pantry and clothes closet, because people in our community are in need and we are a church. Maybe a homeless shelter? And we should also have a school — and not just a preschool, but a real school.
That’s all well and good. It’s even logical. Some would say strategic, and most would say it’s church.
But here’s the counter to counterintuitive: It’s crazy complicated to offer countless ministries and programs. We would all agree making our church more complicated and complex does not necessarily equal more effective. It certainly doesn’t guarantee more people. Complication spreads our leadership too thin. It spreads our effectiveness too thin. It spreads our resources too thin. It happens subtly over time, often without us even noticing. Before we know it, though, our church is burdened with more than can be done well, and our reach and effectiveness will be hampered as a result.
Consider the marketplace, for example. Selfishly, let’s look at Chick-fil-A, because it’s my favorite quick-service restaurant. I could eat there every day of the week — except Sunday, when I often want a delicious chicken sandwich the most. Being closed on Sunday is actually causing me to sin, but that’s another post.
Chick-fil-A specializes in one thing — chicken. Sure, they carry waffle fries and salads (mostly with chicken) and drinks, but the core of their offering is chicken. You can get it fried (or pressure-cooked to be specific) or grilled.
Just not on Sunday.
I worked at Chick-fil-A as a teenager. In fact, I was working in a store when nuggets were introduced. I realize that ages me a bit. Those little, bite-sized pieces of chicken are addictive! When we first offered this new product, it cause a some wrinkles in our systems. The introduction of a new product required us to rethink our operations and approach to food preparation. The basics were the same — raw chicken with milk-wash and season coater, pressure cooked for a few minutes, but the new product demanded new boxes, new menu boards, new pricing, new register keys, new cooked food hold times, and more. And we had to learn to count to 8 and 12. It added complication.
Logically, Chick-fil-A could have continued to expand their menu, adding turkey, duck, and other flying food options. Eventually considering steak, hamburgers, pork, dozens of vegetables, a fully stocked dessert case with pastries and cakes. But they didn’t. In fact, they actually reduced their menu for a while, getting rid of carrot salad and the not-so-beloved Chick-n-Q (a BBQ style shredded chicken). Both deletions were good calls!
Logically, offering every type of food item would be better, right? No matter what your mood, Chick-fil-A could expand their menu and meet the needs of anyone, anytime. Logically, that would be best, because logically offering something for everyone would drive more customers and sales revenue.
But that’s not Chick-fil-A’s approach. Why? Because of the power of focus. Focus allows for:
1. Focused resources:
Logically, the more you do, the more resources are required. If resources are indeed limited — and they are — that means the dollars per program will decrease in direct proportion to the number of offerings provided. Conversely, though, the fewer the options, the more dollars can be dedicated to each. The power of focus.
2. Focused leadership:
Every product and system requires leadership. It’s true in the marketplace, and true in the church. The less focus, the more leadership is required, but that’s pretty expensive. Instead, in most cases, the further leadership is spread across an organization.
Allowing leaders to focus deep in one area rather than spread their time across multiple areas is more effective.
3. Focused quality:
No organization can do everything well. Like a buffet, a lack of focus deteriorates the quality of everything offered. Focus rises the quality of what is offered, and higher quality typically translates into higher engagement.
4. Focused effectiveness:
The combination of focused resources, leadership, and quality equals a compounding increase in effectiveness. When organizations are more effective, they are better, and when then are better, they typically get bigger.
Christian churches could learn a thing or two from the Christian chicken. As a Pastor and church leader myself, I understand the desire to help people and meet needs, but a lack of focus doesn’t translate into a influx of people. In fact, in our desire to meet needs through increased programming and ministry, we often don’t meet needs adequately and limit our overall effectiveness in the process. Before we know it, our desire to help translates into us leading an organizational buffet with severely limited resources, leadership, and quality.
Here’s the irony, you would think this approach would work. You would think offering a ministry or program for every person and every need in your community would generate more and more demand for your church, growing it in the process. But the opposite seems to be true. The more your church resembles a buffet, the fewer people will desire your food, because it’s nearly impossible to be everything to everybody. Just ask Chick-fil-A.
I am not suggesting a church ignore needs — quite the opposite in fact. I am suggesting that focusing all our effort, resources, and leadership will eventually allow us to reach more people and allow for more community needs to be met in the process.
Here are a few questions to help you refine your focus:
1. What’s your church’s “one thing?”
Not your mission — that’s too broad. What is the “one thing” your church is attempting to accomplish? Often this can be found in a well-crafted vision statement.
For us at Watermarke Church, our “one thing” is simply to create a church unchurched people love to attend. This statement isn’t meant to be fully exhaustive, but to provide focus. And it works. Everything we do is part of creating this type of church, and if something begins to move away from this focus, we realign or stop the ministry.
2. What’s your spiritual growth plan?
This might feel like a secondary focus, but our mission as the church is duel-focused already. We need to reach people, but we need to provide a way for people to grow just the same.
This can be done through focus, too. At Watermarke, our focused strategy for spiritual growth (or discipleship if you prefer) is Community Groups. Our goal is to move everyone from rows to circles. Simple and focused. Better, if if doesn’t move people directly from rows to circles, we don’t do it. Bye-bye softball, Sunday School, men’s pancake prayer breakfast, and more.
3. What should you stop doing?
Once you decide on your “one thing,” it becomes easy to evaluate everything currently offered through the lens of the vision. If a ministry or program in not furthering your focus, end it. That may feel harsh, but it might be what’s keeping your entire church from being as effective as possible.
As my friend Andy Stanley has said, “The secret of concentration is elimination.”
At Watermarke, this is exactly why we don’t offer men’s ministry, softball teams, Upward sports, and so on and so forth. People use to say, “maybe when you get a little bigger you can offer Wednesday night supper and Sunday School,” and I would chuckle inside while politely explaining our focus would never allow for these types of offerings, anyway. When the well-meaning church attendee connected the dots to what they loved about our church and the focus that allows them to love it, their suggestions quickly ended.
4. How should you align your budget, staff, and volunteer leaders?
When you have a reduced program and ministry load, you create more opportunity to leverage people and funding where it counts. Simple enough.
5. How can we still support community needs?
You don’t have to jettison community support and needs due to your focus. Instead of providing a food pantry or clothes closet, consider supporting through funding and volunteers those organizations in your community already providing these needs with excellence. This allows you to remain focused while helping others with their strategic focus. Win – win.
If your church has hit a growth barrier, odds are people are encouraging you to offer something new. More ministry seems like a logical answer, but more ministry does not equal more effective ministry. Most often is leads to the opposite. By leveraging the power of focus, every church can break through growth barriers and begin to barrier-proof their church in the process.
Thanks for reading and sharing this blog series. I would love to see every church reaching the unchurched, and from my study and experience, these specific ingredients create the secret sauce to not just break through a growth barrier, but to remove barriers permanently from your church.
Well said. What I see goes straight to your point #4, but more specifically toward volunteers. What I have observed and have heard some of my friends say from their observations is that the same few people volunteer for everything. They stretch themselves too thin which can lead experience burn-out. I agree with you that the fewer ministries a church offers the more focused the leadership team can be. The hard part is doing the eliminating as you quoted Andy Stanley. And, regardless of whether or not my church leadership is taking this approach I will make this my prayer for our church so that we can continue to increase our reach.
Thanks for your insight!