Saturday, March 14, 2009

Twin Peaks: Resource Allocation and Effectiveness in Promoting Spiritual Growth in Conventional Congregations

Dontcha just love that title? It's just like the stuff I used to write back when I was a molecular biologist.

I have an observation.

In conventional congregations, the larger a gathering is, the more resources are invested in it. For example, the typical Sunday morning worship service consumes the vast amount of the resources available. This is true I believe in terms of staff time, funds and physical space. (It's probably true of member time investment as well, to the extent that they invest their time in their spiritual life.)

Here's how that looks:

(You'll notice that I drew that on a napkin to underscore the sophistication of this analysis.)

Thus far, I've restated the obvious.

I also have a hypothesis: The smaller a group is, the more effective it is in promoting spiritual growth (to the extent that the group focuses on spiritual life).

So on one extreme you have spiritual friendships, marriages, mentoring relationships and "two or three are gathered" accountability groups. Next up come the familiar "small groups" and Bible studies. At the other extreme is, well, Sunday morning worship.

Here's how that looks:

The obvious question here is; "What's wrong with this picture?" To which I would respond; "Well, it looks to me as if resource investment in conventional congregations is 180 degrees out of alignment with the strategies that are most effective in promoting spiritual growth."

But here's a more interesting question: "What would congregational life look like if we realigned our resource investment to reflect this?"



Unknown said...

We call it Big Church and Little Church. The Big Church is for worship and teaching but Little Church, when we meet as a small group once a week at someone's house, is where the spiritual growth, accountability, community, and prayer really happen. The majority of the effort and focus on Sunday, in our church anyway, is getting people plugged into small groups. Basically, Sunday is a marketing campaign and is aimed at showing the relevance of Christianity in the modern world. The real work happens when new attendees join a small group. BTW, our church is on fire; we've had literally hundreds of baptisms last year and the small groups are going gangbusters.

Tim Catchim said...

Great post dude. I think the point is that the larger church model is not reproducible on so many levels. Not to mention it creates its own culture, which inevitably will only connect with a niche of people. We need to embrace a more missional-incarnational approach to making disciples and sending them out. As Neil Cole says, addition is good, but multiplication is better. The big church model is doable, but not everyone can do it. There has to be other models we pursue.

Feral Pastor said...

Thanks Planter. The high cost of maintaining a large church expression with a weekly service is a serious impediment to sustainability. Especially as numbers drop, members age and the vast majority of churches are serving at no where near their seating capacity. If it was a business, you know we'd be looking at reducing the number of units in the franchise.

But it's the cultural aspect that I think is more problematic, even than the finances. When the primary expression is a large group rather than a small group, and more presentational than participatory, it establishes and maintains a culture that simply can't be very effective in helping people grow and change, because it is substantially passive and impersonal.

I absolutely believe that large forms have value and shouldn't be eliminated. But it seems to me that the large should be secondary and in service to the small rather than the other way around which appears to be what we have now.

To change that established culture and overcome its massive inertia feels like trying to steer and reverse course on a battleship. I'm not too sanguine about that. Rather, I'm interested in launching some of the little ships - lifeboats, perhaps? - that can be more maneuverable. Then the challenge will be to coordinate the flotilla. A challenge in its own right, but a better one to invest in, to my eyes.