More isn’t always better

By Dr. Tim Spivey

Cause you can doesn’t mean you should. Just because you should, doesn’t mean you can.

Now that Easter has passed and summer is approaching, it’s a great time to do some spring cleaning. In January, many of us set big, hairy audacious goals – fine. January may be the time to resolve to have 8,000 baptisms by February, raise $2 trillion to fight world hunger, and to hasten the Lord’s return with amazing acts of righteousness.

April/May is a great time to check-in on those goals and correct course in a way that will also help your church come next January. It’s an important discipline, and as we go about it, we need to remember this important leadership principle:

Doing more doesn’t mean you’ve done more. It often means you’re simply more busy. More isn’t better. Better is better. In fact, solid ministry strategy might lead a church to resolve to do less – reducing activity/spending for the sake of its actual mission: to make disciples. Sometimes, churches succumb to a belief that if they do less of something in 2012 than they did in 2011, they’ve failed or the entire church may be heading downward.

Sometimes that’s true. But…

The problem with always hiking goals for money given to missions, the number of ministries a church is involved in, or the number of activities a church offers is it creates ministry bubbles with high expectations of perennial achievement that can’t possibly be met – and perhaps shouldn’t.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Of course we should have goals. We just need to make sure that doing more of what was God’s leading 10 years ago is God’s will for us this year and next. Many churches assume so. The thought process works like this: if God wanted us to support a missionary to Cambodia in the 1990s…he still wants us to, and success in missions is defined by how much money we give toward missions in Cambodia compared to years past.

Sound familiar?

There is always a point at which such a system becomes unsustainable and the forced reduction process offers an expensive lesson in humility and focus. More importantly, such an undisciplined ministry system fragments attention, resources and focus. It also keeps new ministry from being born because there’s no time, attention or resources to give to it.

When churches focus on preparing emotionally, intellectually and spiritually for mission, they find their mission clarifies and is more easily achieved because they have freed up time and resources to go after it with unfragmented vigor. They also avoid those painful days when they will inevitably have to lay people off, bring missionaries home, or shut the doors because they succumbed to the “more is always better” ministry myth.

Let me share an excerpt from Harvard Business Review: “Scott Bedbury, the marketing genius who helped build the Nike and Starbucks brands, has a funny term for this same idea. He warns big brands against extending themselves too far – entering new markets, launching new products, selling their products in new retail environments – if there’s no strategic integrity behind the moves. He calls it the “Spandex Rule” of branding. (Inspired by the insight that just because you can wear Spandex jogging clothes doesn’t mean you should, as anyone who runs in public parks can attest.) “A great brand that knows itself also uses that knowledge to decide what not to do,” he argues.”

For Christians, it’s not a matter of brand management, but of missional clarity. It’s about pursuing what God wants us to do with everything He gave us to do it with.

Many churches could (and should) stop doing one-third of their activities and ministries. In most cases, they would upset only those leading those activities and a few other devotees. The time and resources freed up could launch new ministries more on the mission mark – or increase involvement across other existing ministries. Why? There is more available bandwidth of time, resources and focus.

Why won’t churches do it? Two reasons: first, because it sounds bad to say you’re stopping things – it sounds like failure. Second, because they lack the courage.

Just as it’s true to say, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” it’s also true that, “ just because you should, doesn’t mean you can.
Another prevalent problem for churches is to know what they should do and not be able to do it. Why? For some, it’s because of their polity. For other churches, it might be a dysfunctional system of doing church sown over years of tolerating what shouldn’t be tolerated and allowing themselves to be forced to do what they can do but shouldn’t.

This season may be a great time for your church to take stock and resolve to do less and in doing so, become more. Sometimes doing more is the right thing to do. For most churches, however, we should be doing less better – and saving the “more” for things we aren’t already doing. Sometimes doing more is better. Not always.

So, set goals, and set good ones. Adjust the goals you set in January, and add a new one at mid-year: to discover new opportunities for ministry and courageously clear the brush to journey there.

Dr. Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book Jesus, the Powerful Servant.


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