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Is your church more like a buffet or a bistro?

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February 8, 2012 by eric echols

“All You Can Eat”. Many restaurants offer this culinary ritual by asking you to pay a flat fee of $6.95 so you can commence to stuffing yourself on a never ending array of options…from fried chicken to egg rolls & salisbury steak to tacos. After four trips to the “food bar” you then have the privilege of visiting the “dessert bar” where you can pour hot fudge & sprinkles over powdered ice cream and three week old pound cake.

What ALL these restaurants have in common is that the food is bad, the quality is cheap, and choices are endless.

The truth is that many of churches have an “all you can eat” approach to the number of ministries they offer. The thought is that if you offer something for everyone then everyone will come. Reading through their bulletin feels a lot like eating at a buffet…you can get a little bit of everything. Their “menu” of programs looks something like this:

  • Sunday Morning Worship
  • Sunday Night Worship
  • Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting
  • Sunday School
  • VBS
  • Various camps for all kids and students
  • Small Groups
  • Discipleship classes
  • Volunteering in a ministry or two
  • Sports leagues
  • Awana
  • Men’s & Women’s ministries
  • Evangelism training
  • Retreats
  • Cantatas
  • MOPS
  • Mother’s Morning Out
  • Parent’s Night Out
  • Meetings, meetings, and more meetings
  • Dinner on the grounds
  • BBQ’s
  • And the list goes on and on…

Unfortunately, what actually happens is that the program is bad, the quality is cheap, and a lot of people don’t come. In other words, the variety is impressive but the impact is not.

In contrast to a smorgasbord approach to ministry, I’m an advocate for a lean approach to ministry. The more focused your approach the more impact you will have.

Churches that are successful with a more focused approach to ministry feel more like eating at one of our favorite local restaurants, Rico’s World Kitchen. Rico’s menu is selective but their quality is incredible. Just like Rico’s, churches that adopt a lean approach to ministry require a tremendous amount of leadership and effort to be effective.

First of all, you have to strategically decide what you’re going to focus on. Then you have to pour all your leadership effort into making sure that what your church offers is the absolute best it can be. At Cross Pointe, where I serve as the Pastor of Ministries, we believe that we can have the most impact by focusing on a few quality ministries. That’s why our leadership energy is devoted to the following:

  • Sunday morning worship experiences for kids, students, & adults.
  • Small group environments (both on and off campus)
  • Serving Others (on ministry teams and by serving people at their point of need)
  • Local and Global Missions

This doesn’t mean that we only do these four things. We have folks from our church involved in other areas of ministry & serving throughout our community. However, these are the areas that we truly own. For everything else we partner with other organizations where we can utilize our volunteers and resources to make a difference in our community. If you’re thinking about transitioning to a more lean approach to ministry, I suggest you read an excellent book on this topic called Simple Church by Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger. Also, a good friend of mine, Dan Reiland, gives some outstanding advice on how to move toward a lean and more impactful ministry…

1. Don’t stand at your pulpit, brandish your Colt .45 and declare that you just shut down half the ministries in your church. Please. I don’t have any job openings.

2. Invest weeks or months thinking and praying with key leadership asking God what your focus needs to be.

3. Cast vision and teach the principle of lean ministry. Tell why you are leaning into it. (No pun intended.)

4. Once you know your focus, take six months to a year to s-l-o-w-l-y close down other ministries.

5. Keep casting vision. Tell success stories of primary ministries.

6. Develop relationships with ministries in your community and around the world that you don’t “own and operate” but can support. (Keep this group lean too.)

7. Remind people that they can do any ministry that they want, but that doesn’t obligate your church to do it, support it, advertize it, find a room for it, pay for it, and on the list goes.

8. Don’t feel like this limits you. You can start a new ministry any time you want. But be intentional. And when you do start a new ministry, be tough about considering what ministry you may need to drop.

My prayer for our churches is that we have true Kingdom impact. That our ministries are amazing, our quality is impeccable, and that a ton of people do come!

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3 thoughts on “Is your church more like a buffet or a bistro?

  1. Greg Baird says:

    Great post Eric. I SO wish churches would heed this advice.

    • eric echols says:

      Thanks Greg! I’m with you. I strongly believe that the greater the focus the greater the impact. Our churches could have more impact if we get laser focused on what we are trying to do and where we are trying to take people as opposed to simply offering the next “fad” program or event.

      • Geografia says:

        Churches need to focus on preaching the Word and foitresng an atmosphere of faith. In my opinion, church giving is down because people don’t believe in God as their source. They are not willing to let God be God . If the Word of God was first place in their life, they would be led by the Holy Spirit in matters of giving (and others). I am going avoid the topic of tithing right now in the essence of brevity. But needless to say, make God’s word first to build your faith(faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of God Rom 10:17) and as your faith grows your spiritual sensitivity will grow to hear and be led.Secondly, it is a pastors calling not to do the ministry, but to EQUIP THE PEOPLE to do the ministry. In the small Lutheran church I grew up in, the Sunday bulletin (each week) had printed in it had the names of the Pastors, and then next to the word Ministers it read ever member of Christus Lutheran Church .

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