This is my final post on this topic. Tim Shapiro, president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, wrote an article entitled "How Your Congregation Learns" for Congregations magazine, a publication by The Alban Institute. This series of posts came from that article. In this installment we will look at Congregations learn well when they say "no" and say "yes." Shapiro believes that in many cases when a congregation says yes to an initiative they also need to be saying no to something they've been doing.
For the past few years I've told church leaders at my workshops that most smaller churches could accomplish more by doing less. Too many smaller churches are trying to compete with larger churches in their communities by offering ministries and programs for which they really don't have the resources. As a result, they wear out their congregations and often end up providing something that is of average quality at best. By focusing on doing fewer things they can begin to do them with excellence which will have a much greater impact. Quality beats quantity every time.
Of course, this will not be easy. Many of the things smaller churches do have taken on the quality of a sacred cow. For instance, trying to eliminate a mid-week prayer meeting that is attended by five people on a good night will seem to some as heresy. You can probably identify sacred cows in your church as well. It's not that there is usually anything wrong with them; it's just that there's not enough right with them to continue doing them, especially if there are better things a church could be doing with that time. Anyone familiar with the Pareto Principle knows that it teaches that we get 80% of our success from 20% of our efforts. The trick for a learning congregation is to identify what 20% gives us our greatest return. A tougher trick is to remember that at some point that 20% will eventually become the 80% that is no longer effective and will need to be replaced by something else.
Here's a challenge for church leaders. As your congregation begins to discern a fresh vision for new ministries ask them what they will be willing to set aside to make the resources available for the new ministries. It will probably be very uncomfortable at first, but as they begin to make those exchanges it will become easier, and you will begin to eliminate some of the activities that are no longer productive.