We've all been to a buffet or a cafeteria. Long display cases of entrees, side dishes, salads, breads and desserts. Some buffets are an amazing collection of incredible food. Others are a wide variety of bland, predictable food.
Most of us have also been to a banquet or event where there was a plated meal. Maybe it was a wedding rehearsal or a $1,000 a plate fund-raiser, but most of us have also had this kind of meal. There are times when a plated meal can also be amazing. And to be fair, there are also plenty of times when the food is only so so.
I want to suggest that the most predictable path to becoming a church of groups is the plated meal approach. It's not the buffet or cafeteria. The most difficult scenario is one where a customer walks up to the long line of options, grabs a tray and begins sliding it down the counter in front of the display case, choosing for themselves an entree, a side dish or two, a salad, a roll, and a dessert.
Now, please understand. It's not that a customer can't get a healthy and delicious meal from a buffet or a cafeteria. They certainly can. But unless all of the options are equally healthy and delicious...encouraging choice doesn't necessarily lead to health or delicious variety. And it's not that your members and attendees (your crowd) can't choose for themselves from the buffet that you're offering. They can. But it's less likely that all of the menu items actually lead in the direction you want them to go. This is why I've identified "menu items promoted equally as one of the top 10 fantasies of churches with groups.
And that's why I say that a plated meal leads to a church of groups. If you believe that the optimum environment for life-change is in a group...you need to be moving in the direction of plated (as opposed to the buffet line at Luby's or The Mirage. I believe that for two reasons:
First of all, most of us will have a hard time pulling off a buffet line of amazing and delicious choices that move people in the direction we want them to go. And that's a key point. If you can pull off options that move people in the direction you want them to go...put an asterisk on this point. But most of us cannot. We don't have the resources.
The second reason that I think plated is the better route is important for you to understand. It's been conclusively demonstrated that more choices leads to decision paralysis. I cite the now famous study where one week a sample tray of 6 different jams was offered to customers at a grocery store. The following week an amazing array of 26 options was offered. Guess which week produced more sales at the checkout? That's right. Fewer.
What's the lesson? When it comes to selecting the best way to move someone in the direction of spiritual health and balance...a plated meal is the most likely path. If you want to become a church of groups...you're going to probably need to think "plated," not buffet.
Next Steps: I want to suggest that if you want to become a church of groups...but you know your current menu of options makes you more like a buffet...two books that will help you are The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry and Simple Church. A third that ought to be on your staff reading list is Church Unique, by Will Mancini. These three books provide the basis for a great conversation when read as a team. A word of caution though, if you're not the senior pastor or executive pastor...you can't make the kinds of changes you'll want to without their engagement.
Image by Thomas Hawk