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Balancing Act: 10 Competing Choices Facing Every Growing Church

Balancing Act

From an early age, my son, Jacob, has been a big fan of the game “Would you rather?” He’ll come up with bizarre scenarios and then force you to choose which option you would choose.

For example, Jacob might ask, “Would you rather have no elbows or no kneecaps?” (I’d choose no kneecaps.) Or he might ask, “Would you rather be 3′ 10″ or 8′ 10″ tall?” (I’d choose 8′ 10″ tall. That might offset my lack of speed or jump-shot on the basketball court.)

Jacob’s little game got me thinking about “would you rathers” that churches might face. Here’s what I would select if forced to make a choice between the two options:

  1. I’d rather plug someone into a serving team than into a small group. People in serving teams tend to be more outsider- or others-focused. Groups tend to get insular over time. In fact, our research shows that people who volunteer are more likely to eventually get into a group than people who are in a group are likely to eventually volunteer.
  2. I’d rather clarify the goals and expectations for a position than use performance evaluations. For the most part, performance evaluations don’t work. Rather than trying to judge someone’s past performance, I’d rather clarify the win moving forward. Once the expectations are clear, then it’s easier to implement coaching and accountability around that. Our recent research shows this is the way other healthy staff teams do this as well.
  3. I’d rather hire a leader who can build teams than a faithful servant who tries to get things done on their own. This is about people we hire—the folks we actually pay. We certainly need many, many faithful servants in our ministries in volunteer capacities. The people we pay, though, need to get ministry done through others.
  4. I’d rather have four services in a sanctuary that’s too small than have one service in a sanctuary that accommodates the entire congregation. The more services you have, the more options you give people to attend. Attendance will almost always go up with more options. You also give more people the opportunity to volunteer. More volunteer engagement also builds healthier churches.
  5. I’d rather hire a children’s pastor than a student pastor. I’ve seen several churches reach hundreds of students by simply engaging them in worship services, serving and participating in a home group. It’s difficult to engage kids, though, unless you create an age-specific environment for them. That usually takes leadership.
  6. I’d rather have a manageable amount of debt that is used to fund future vision than have no debt and unfunded vision. Just as it’s possible to be financially healthy on the home front and carry a mortgage, it’s possible for a church to be financially healthy and carry debt. In fact, I’ve probably seen more financially healthy churches with debt than I’ve seen financially healthy churches without debt. Financial health has more to do with cash flow and cash reserves.
  7. I’d rather have a welcoming church than a friendly church. The welcoming church is always thinking guests first. They expect new people to show up every week. They are intentional about how they greet and welcome those guests. They are intentional about how they communicate, worship and teach with guests in their services. Friendly churches, on the other hand, can be some of the most unwelcoming places in the world, because the focus is on people who already are part of the church.
  8. I’d rather hear a message that’s too short and leaves me wanting more than a message that’s too long and loses my attention. Ted Talks are only 18 minutes long, and yet they are some of the most compelling messages I’ve ever heard. A great message grabs attention, presents biblical truth and then motivates people to take a next step. The longer a message gets, the harder it becomes to accomplish all three.
  9. I’d rather people join a home group than a Sunday School class. It’s much harder to reach people outside the church when optimal service times on Sunday morning compete with Sunday School. It’s much harder to get people to volunteer when serving opportunities compete with Sunday School. Churches with home groups, by nature, tend to be more outward-focused than churches with Sunday School classes. With limited resources, Sunday School ends up competing with other weekend environments for space, leadership and volunteer engagement.
  10. I’d rather a church have high-impact Sunday services and no outreach ministries than have Sunday services that are insider-focused and multiple outreach ministries. From my experience working with hundreds of churches, “outreach ministries” at best typically end up being gatherings for people who already attend the church or attend other churches (think Trunk or Treat, Vacation Bible School, sports leagues, Easter egg hunts, Christmas programs, etc.). In most communities across America, the Sunday service, if done effectively, is still the best opportunity for outreach.

Of course, you may not be in a position where you have to face either/or choices. That said, this list is certainly a reflection of where I’d encourage churches to invest their focus and limited resources.

What are some of the other competing choices you face in ministry? Whether they are competing values or ministries competing for resources, I’d love to hear the choices you wrestle with as you engage the mission of reaching people for Jesus.