I read a very interesting article the other day by Gregg Mader in ImageSource magazine (Vol. 13, Feb. 2011). He was talking about successful business strategies versus struggling or unsuccessful strategies in the business world. He used the difference between an "off-the-shelf, mediocre product" and "a dedicated one-of-a-kind product that meets the individual tastes of their clientele" to point to why managed service providers are the most successful in the business world. The difference between a bag of chocolates and a chocolatier. His points: a program tailored to the client, based on what they know about the client, combined with expertise and creativity.
Churches that are "successful" are those who do similar things. They offer ministries and programs tailored to their target base of people. They work to really know to whom they are ministering and their audience's particular needs and points of interest. They offer programming with expertise and creativity. They are chocolatiers, not just providers of chocolate. Mader says, in the business world, "you have to invest in the client if you are going to truly be a value driven organization." Well, a similar thing can be said in the church world and the church marketplace.
O.K. Someone is bound to cry, "Dumbing down the gospel again!" "Just trying to please people rather than preach the whole counsel of God!" "Making the gospel message man-centered rather than God-centered!" The truth of the matter is that while some megachurches are a mile wide and an inch deep, many are seeking to offer a ministry that takes people from non-faith to fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. And, the other side of that truth are churches barely surviving or just "getting along" that cry the loudest and offer little in way of teaching the "whole counsel" of God. They are like one-stringed guitars that play as if they have a full complement of strings. Whether it is a particular doctrinal hobby-horse, or a political-sociological point of view, or a specialty end-times philosophy, they claim to teach and preach the whole counsel of God but fall miserably short. Finally, I'm NOT writing from a megachurch, but a medium-sized church. So, with that out of way, let's look at "successful" churches from Mader's viewpoint.
First, they tailor their ministries to a target audience. Whether it is seniors, or young adults, or professionals, or blue-collar workers, or farmers, successful churches have a target and seek to hit it in their advertising, promotions, ministry programming and teaching and preaching. They preach the whole counsel of God couched in terms, language, and venues that meet their target audience. Churches that try to do "everything" or "be everything to everybody" fail. The old adage is that if you try to hit everything, you will miss it! Healthy and growing churches limit their target audience to "clients" they are gifted and equipped to reach. Is that a description of YOUR church? Are you a bag of chocolates or a chocolatier?!
Second, they work hard at really getting to KNOW their target base. They not only exegete the Bible but the culture as well. They understand what ethnographics is all about. They not only DO demographics; they study their client base to understand how they think, what makes them tick, how they respond to certain things, what kinds of music they listen to, how best to help them listen and learn. The VALUE their target or client base. They believe, as Hybels has taught, "people matter to God." And, if they matter to God, whatever our target, they must really matter to us. They value people and their needs. Is this a description of your church? Are you a bag of chocolates or a chocolatier?!
Third, they diligently labor at expertise and creativity. One of the most frustrating things about many churches and their programming is that they "make do." They put the wrong people in the wrong places at the wrong times and for the wrong reasons. They "get by" because they think, "Well, these are the folks God has given us, so we will use what we have and not complain." So people who can't sing, sing publicly (and usually too loudly and off-key). And the congregation takes it in stride because after all, it is the "best we can do." Teachers are mismatched with groups or classes because we "don't have enough of them." Care pastors are asked to do administration, and do so badly, because we "can't (or won't) afford" an administrator.
Successful churches take pains to discover, develop and use the gift-mix of their church population to do ministry with expertise and creativity. They work at not mismatching or misplacing people in ministry spots. They don't do a ministry if they don't have the gifting to do it well. They end a ministry if it has outlived its usefulness to the kingdom of God. They start ministries that better use and distribute their giftedness.
And, successful churches not only do the right things, but they do things right. They place excellence as a high priority and cultural value to their organization. Because God deserves our very best.
Mader is right--both in the business and church world. Is your church, your ministry, a bag of chocolates or a chocolatier?!