Could “Too Many Options” Be Limiting Your Small Group Ministry?

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Could “Too Many Options” Be Limiting Your Small Group Ministry?

It may be counterintuitive, but it turns out that you can offer too many options.

In what may seem to be one of the strangest paradoxes ever, it turns out that although we tend to believe more is better and we like to have options, too many choices often turns out to demotivate decisions.

How might this apply to your small group ministry?

If you’re offering groups and a few other ways that a person can grow spiritually, it is a complication that many people have difficulty processing.  You might think options bring increased buy-in, but it turns out that options may actually be demotivating.

Need evidence? In a fascinating study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper (Choice is Demotivating) it was learned that more is rarely better. Their study examined customer responses to two jam sampling opportunities on two consecutive weekends at a high-end grocery store in Menlo Park, CA.

  • The first weekend featured a stand with 24 selections (extensive choice).
  • The second weekend featured a stand with just 6 selections (limited choice).

Of the 242 customers who passed by the sampling stand with 24 choices, 60% stopped while only 40% stopped at the limited choice stand the following weekend. Predictably, the customers seemed to prefer the more extensive choice. Surprisingly, the checkout stand revealed a different story. 30% of the limited choice customers purchased jam while only 3% of the extensive choice customers purchased jam.

Can you see it? How might the learnings from this study inform a more effective design of what I call your belonging and becoming menu?

Think Steps, Not Programs

Maybe this will help. In Seven Practices of Effective Ministry we learn that the practice of thinking steps, not programs encourages the development of steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.

There are several important elements to the practice:

  1. Easy: Well designed steps are easy to take. They’re not too big or too difficult. They are reasonable. I say, “You don’t have to be a world-class long jumper like Carl Lewis to take the step.”
  2. Obvious: Well designed steps are easy to see. They’re not hidden or a challenge to find. They’re located in plain sight. They’re not offered on a menu alongside a lot of other options. They’re obviously the step that should be taken. I say, “You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out which step to take.”
  3. Strategic: Well designed steps lead only in the right direction. They lead only to the preferred destination. They never lead to a dead end or a cul de sac. .

Narrow the Focus

Another of the seven practices of effective ministry is to narrow the focus. That is, intentionally limit what you’re offering. If there are items on the menu that are there without intentionality, you are not narrowing the focus. In fact, if there are too many unintentionally offered options you are widening the focus or diffusing the focus.


Take a moment and think about your church’s belonging and becoming menu.

Does your menu reflect the practice of thinking steps, not programs? Or does your menu offer options that may (or may not) lead in the direction you want people to go?

Does your menu reflect the practice of narrowing the focus? Or does your menu offer too many choices making it difficult to choose and easy to end up in a dead end?

What does jam have to do with thinking steps, not programs and narrowing the focus? If you’ve prepared a jam-packed menu that gives too many options you shouldn’t be surprised when your congregation has a hard time choosing what is best.

Further Reading:

Thinking Thursday: The Paradox of Choice

How to Make Next Steps Easier to Choose

Image by Anthony Albright

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