Over the years, businesses intentionally embraced the masses and got larger and larger. In this pursuit, mass production and mass marketing led to a large and ultimately massive market. Customers that were initially attracted by the lower prices from these mass production techniques eventually lamented the sameness and the lack of uniqueness that was all too apparent in the companies’ products and services.
Henry Ford once said, “A customer can have a car painted any color that he wants as long as it is black”.
Some progressive leaders of these large companies discovered a new concept called “Mass Customization” whereby customers could still take advantage of the availability, low cost and high quality associated with mass production but at the same time could receive a product or service that was customized to the individual and specific needs of the consumer.
Recently, churches have gotten big—really big. Just a few years ago, we used to marvel at megachurches. We now have dozens of gigachurches, churches that serve tens of thousands of people each week.
These churches regardless of their size have one particular thing, one particular offering or service that needs to be very customized. That product or service is discipleship.
Very large churches do a great job in providing spectacular worship; they offer amazing programs and have built remarkable buildings. These are all mass produced offerings. Their worship attracts thousands; many of their programs require hundreds of employees and utilize thousands of volunteers. However, in order for these very large churches to turn out great disciples they also have to learn or acquire the art of Mass Customization of Discipleship.
Embraced small groups
For example, as churches have grown, in order to maintain intimacy and fellowship they have embraced small groups. Small groups are a great way for many people to grow in Christ, discover what it means to become accountable, to understand sacrifice, humility and community. Individuals and couples find their way into a specific small group that fits and meets their particular needs.
Not everyone is ready however for a small group. Many people on the path of becoming disciples need to heal, regroup, recover or possibly relearn some of the basics. Many churches have found opportunities to offer them medium size and larger group gatherings including divorce support groups, alcohol and drug rehabilitation groups.
Sunday school still offered
I’m very happy as well to see that all the success experienced in years past through adult Sunday school programs hasn’t been discarded. Many of our largest churches are offering new Saturday, Sunday and weekday classes. These class offerings range from some basic classes in the faith to more advanced classes in evangelism, stewardship, marriage and child development. All have been customized to meet the particular needs of individuals.
Here in South Florida as well as in many parts of the country, a large percentage of our visitors and new members have a Catholic background. In order for many of these individuals to grow as disciples, they want to understand some of the historical and cultural similarities and differences. Churches that offer these classes have designed a customized approach to a smaller but specific group with distinct and individual needs.
Mass Customization of Discipleship isn’t simply offering more but offering that which specifically meets the need of certain individuals, couples and groups. People are attracted to large churches because of the quality of worship, their excellent programing and ample facilities. As these churches continue to grow they need to find ways to minister and customize growth opportunities for various individuals, couples and groups.
Mass Customization of Discipleship maintains some of the advantages of economies-of-scale while creating opportunities for large churches to provide unique and distinctive ways for people from various backgrounds to grow, to learn and to become exactly who Christ wants them to be.
Ken Behr is an executive pastor at Christ Fellowship, Palm Beach Gardens, FL. [www.gochristfellowship.com]