The problem with one-size fits all is…

The problem with one-size fits all is… One-size doesn’t fit all.

We are faced with a tiny percentage of the population actively involved in the local church. (>10%) Yet, I’m continually perplexed to see no one looking hard at the big, obvious problems of bottlenecks & gatekeepers which keep churches small with a strategy that lost its effectiveness 25 years ago.

Most churches have the same exact strategy. It’s the manifestations of that strategy which differ.

Faced with impossible statistical opposition first Century church leaders in Acts rejected the culturally accepted strategy of building a religion. Instead, they decentralized power, they empowered the powerless and served the cast-offs, and they didn’t get tied down to buildings, staffing, and overhead. As a direct result within 200 years this ragtag insurrection and their Gospel message essentially overthrew the government of Rome. Statistically speaking, when they got away from that and started to act like a religion with firm control, structure, and facilities… the churches growth slowed.

Simply put. The reason we are reaching >10% of the population is that we have replaced a rebellion for nice.

To reach more people you don’t need a new program.

You need a new strategy.

Published by Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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17 Comments

  1. Adam, I love the thought behind it. The images are a little confusing to me. I would think about it like this instead. The McDonald’s approach is more like a funnel. The massive population is like the water being poured into the funnel. The small opening conforms the water into a small focused stream that can be directed and doesn’t splash all over the place. The insurrection approach, however, is like a strainer. The water being poured in basically has hundreds of little holes to go out of, in all directions. It’s messy, and splashes all over the sink, but at least it’s not getting backed up in the funnel. That’s what happens in the “big” church mentality. They are looking for ways to “keep” people in church, upping their numbers. The church in America has basically been stagnant for decades. We all get re-shuffle every couple of years, but are not reaching more people. Maybe if we were’t making people wait their turn to be conformed, and just gave them enough help and permission to “flow through” they would make a splash somewhere else. Great thoughts!

  2. LOVE it – I’ve been working up a sermon on church growth the last few weeks, weaving in some of your thoughts (with appropriate HT’s for your insights), but THIS was the clarity I needed to really push our congregation into the reality of church growth being a need, not for us as a church, but for those in our community that are lost (in many different ways). You keep it so organic in the book of Acts – so refreshing in a day an age where some mega-churches are looking down at “little” churches with a subtle “we upped our standards, so up yours” attitude…not realizing that “us vs. them” is NOT what Jesus had in mind for church growth as a strategy, but more like you put as the city/region as a whole being judged by God for their collective efforts (per Revelation in your previous blog post). Thanks again!

  3. Curious – would you agree that one main reason most churches today aren’t growing, is…because deep down, in their heart of hearts, most church members really don’t WANT the church to grow? (happy with status quo, tradition, simple resistance/distrust of any change/new ideas?).

    1. That is something I’d include in the reasons. But I really think a bigger one is that staff act as gatekeepers and bottle necks.

      If we look at where the Gospel is increasing today… it is in places that are forced to decentralize.

      Christianity was never intended to be a religion, was it? We say that Jesus came to fulfill the law… but the way we do church just creates a whole new list of written/unwritten expectations.

      1. Just to push stephen’s thought a little further, I wonder if it isn’t that status quo that causes so many church staff to act as gate keepers. I know that, since I’m in the first year of a new ministry at a new church, it’s hard for me not to keep things the same since that’s what the “church” wants to see happen. Many staff do this because, frankly, they (myself included) want to keep their jobs.

        Obviously, ministry is about more than keeping a job but it’s only by following the rules and keeping the job that you can slowly begin to make changes. I’m thinking about brock morgan’s recent blog about holy cows and just throwing it out there that, in youth ministry especially, it can be the “we’ve always done it that way” people who are the biggest bottlenecks. Just my thoughts.

        1. Hmmm… great thoughts. Here’s what I added in today’s post:

          – We are paid by, and charged to serve, the needs of 5% of the population who pay our salary.

          – We are called by, and charged by Jesus, to reach the 95% of the populations with our very lives. (Romans 12:1)

          All I’m saying is that if church staff are gatekeepers than we have automatically created a funnel that people interested have to go through. Decentralizing leadership (like in the graphic above) eliminates those bottlenecks.

  4. Bud…just so you know…when I run into “we’ve always done it that way” – the traditionalists…those that have the “sacred cow” mentality…I will actually tell them directly (in love, as much as possible) that “sacred cows make the tastiest burgers”…and push on through…but also by sharing the vision of WHY a certain change is being made…it’s their choice to accept or reject it, but more often than not, they understand, but probably don’t like, the change (cause they are too comfortable in the traditional ways, but see the need to reach a new generation, and the “old ways” just won’t cut it) – always keep the theology, but look at changing the packaging…

  5. Hey Adam – thanks for sharing your link to this post yesterday. I finally got a chance to read it and contemplate it. As a church, we have been praying and thinking about the command by Jesus to in short “love God and love our neighbors.” Through this, it has caused us to rethink the how we do church, our measurements for success i.e. “wins” and over-all strategy. We are nowhere near having things figured out, but the conversation of being the best neighbor our neighbors have ever had, and loving our neighbors not because we want them to be Christians, but because we are Christians has caused us to have deeper discussions of how church would look different, be different, and act different.

    I recently launched a home Bible study this summer in my house for high school students. The book we are studying is the book of Acts. I started off the study by telling the 30 high school students it would be great that if one day “soon”, they were the ones leading a Bible study like this in their homes, neighborhoods, and schools and not me! One student said, “then we would be doing your job and the job of our adult leaders. You would be out of a job!” My response was that it would be great if that happened, because then they would all be doing what Jesus commanded and that was to make disciples and not just me doing it…

    Its hard for those of us who are paid staff to think about “new strategy’s” for church, because it can cause disruption and uncertainty in our own lives and livelihood. I have been on staff as a youth pastor on a couple of mega-churches, and I am currently doing so now. I know the leaderships heart is to make disciples, and to see people fulfill the command of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20. However, realizing that discipleship really begins with depth, which leads to numerical growth, and not the other way around can be daunting and paralyzing for churches of all sizes… It is a cultural thing in many ways.

    One of the commentators above stated this about the America church, “They are looking for ways to “keep” people in church, upping their numbers. The church in America has basically been stagnant for decades.” This can true for many churches and staff persons in the U.S.. However, I am encouraged by bloggers such as yourself, others, and conversations similar to this that are popping up all over the country. I am excited that the Father seems to be moving in the U.S church and the hearts of His people, both big and small to realize His plan for the kingdom.

  6. Adam, Not to hijack your thread, but your final point about trading ‘rebellion’ for ‘nice’ struck a different chord with me when I read this local article about local churches proclaiming that “homosexuality is not a sin” and it made me think that we have also traded ‘truth’ for ‘love.’ What do you think?

    http://www.ketv.com/r/28197437/detail.html

  7. I’m not gay, but I would think that if I were, I’d see the church as either being affirming or completely hateful. At the end of the day I think truth and love lies firmly in the middle.

    Such a complicated issue for a comment.

    All I know is that my role isn’t as judge, God has called me to love my neighbors as myself, love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and mind and introduce people to Jesus– who ultimately is the judge of our hearts and actions.

    I do think that how the church-at-large in America figures out how to engage with the LGBT community will dictate where we go for the next 10-15 years.

    It’s the #1 question people outside the church want answered and it’s the question most church leaders are stuck on. I’m really proud to be a part of the work that Andrew Marin (www.themarinfoundation.org) is doing to educate the evangelical community. He’s just completed a DVD companion for church staff from his book, Love is an Orientation, I spoke into the youth ministry section of that. And I’m really excited to see how ministry leaders can implement stuff to just live in the middle somewhere, where Biblical truth and love reside.

  8. It is sad that so many leaders are gatekeepers. I think there is a place for the mega churches. But the early church met as small groups and the planting of small churches was how the gospel spread in America. It is my belief that a return to this strategy instead of trying to grow big churches is the best way to reach our world (see my post THE Missions Strategy of the 21st Century at my blog Small Church Tools).
    Terry Reed

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