*And Some People Will Still Leave

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In a recent article I wrote that one of the artificial barriers limiting small group ministry growth is too many selections on the next step menu.  You know that scenario right?  Even if you’ve worked hard to become a simple church and you’ve embraced the idea of narrowing the focus, you’re probably still in the majority of churches that have Sunday school for adults, a Wednesday night program for adults, and off-campus small groups that meet in homes.  See also, Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?

Is that you?  Having any problems trimming the menu?  Thought so.

How about this one.  You have ambitions of having a world-class Sunday morning program for children but can’t find enough high-capacity volunteers to make it happen.  And at the same time, you’ve got an Awana program that is running at capacity, has great leadership, more volunteers than they actually need, and lots of kids from your church and many other churches in the area.

Sound familiar?

Too many selections on the next step menu is a reality almost everywhere.  Yet, it is definitely the case that narrowing the focus and  plated meals lead to a churches OF groups.  To quote Captain Jack Ross, “These are the facts…and they are undisputed.”  See also, Narrowing the Focus Leads to a Church OF Groups and A “Plated Meal” Leads to a Church OF Groups.

Is there a solution?  Is there an easy way to trim the number of selections on the menu?  Not an easy way.  But there is a way.

Here’s my prescription:

First, make it a priority to integrate Thom Rainer’s new book, I Am a Church Member, into your study.  Work it into your weekend sermon calendar.  It’s all very good, but of particular interest should be the section on “I will not let my church be about my preferences and my desires.”

Second, spend time wrestling with the concept that there need to be “next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends.”  This is an essential ingredient to understand.  If you’re not creating next steps for all 5 components of Saddleback’s concentric circle model, you’re going to miss out on a big idea.  See also, Clue #2 When Designing Your Small Group System and Next Steps for Everyone and First Steps for Their Friends.

Third, add a key question to your strategic bag-of-tricks.  When considering how to build next steps for everyone (and first steps for their friends), start asking the question, “What’s the best way to connect the unconnected adults in your congregation?”  Or, “What’s the best way to help children learn about Jesus?” Or, you name it.  Just fill in the blank.  See also, Supercharge Your Ministry with These 5 Questions.

Fourth, begin choosing the best way to do everything and prioritize the promotion of those programs.  What happens to the programs that aren’t the best way to…?  They may fit in as next steps.  A long conversation may be in order.  Certainly, it won’t often be an easy redesign.

Not everyone will understand.  Not everyone will be be able to embrace the idea that their program is not the best way.  Against all odds, some will actually come to see the world differently.  And some will still leave, unwilling to set their program aside.

I like Ed Stetzer’s line that “If the 50s ever come back, most of my churches and most of your churches are ready to go.”  Only some are able to embrace the truth that if we’re going to connect the widening 60%, we’ll have to be open to doing things the best way.

*And some people will still leave.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. Andrew Mason on July 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    This is an unbelievably relevant topic Mark! I think a big part of the problem is that Christians want their pastors to have ministries/programs like “their old church” had. Well, 3-5 ideas later, a church’s greatest competition is itself. Reading “Simple Church” all those years ago was a game-changer for me. Looks like I need to pick up, “I Am A Church Member” now. Thanks again for the great content!

  2. JT Reed on July 9, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I don’t remember you visiting our church but you surely must have.

  3. markchowell on July 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here, Andrew! I think you’re right. And that’s why becoming good or great at saying “no” is a skill many of us need to learn.


  4. markchowell on July 9, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Isn’t that true!