If I Was Starting Today: Part 4

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(This is part 4 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 1 right here)

If I knew then what I know now…I’d work harder to develop a sequence of spiritual next steps and I’d narrow our focus to only include the most important elements to growth.

“Narrowing the focus” and “thinking steps, not programs” are concepts that come from 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley and Reggie Joiner.  What’s the core concept?  Rather than developing (or buying off-the-shelf) programs that will draw a crowd, we need to design steps that lead to where we want our people to go and then we need to eliminate the options that don’t lead cleanly to there.  How does that apply to the business we’re all in?  Let’s unpack the idea.

At the risk of oversimplifying, let’s say that there are two basic approaches to the ministry (or activity) menu.  There’s the cafeteria approach (think long display of options with multiple entrees, sides, breads and desserts) or there’s the streamlined approach (In-n-Out Burger, the entire menu consists of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, and drinks).  Thinking steps means narrowing down the menu to only those choices that move your people in the direction you want them to go.

How does this apply to small group ministry?  Well, 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 they 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.

What does jam have to do with 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.

This is part 4 of a 7 part series.  You can read part 5 right here.

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