One of the sections of Godin’s book, (You can read his posts here and here), talks about the local max. Most businesses, Godin says, look at their life cycle like the chart below. You get a good idea, you make money, you have success, (point A), you peak, and then you decline (point B). Many of us can probably recognize this chart from our churches: they will have a good period, generally under an excellent pastor, will peak, (often at around 180 or so in attendance) and then begin a gentle decline downwards. At some point, the church bottoms out, and a similar period, with similar success begins again (e.g. just repeat the “local max” graph over again) or the church closes.
Godin suggests that the graph of a truly successful business looks like this.
When we’ve reached the local max, we form the foundation for a much larger, more successful, more effective organization, (the big max), not by doing A, which is what got us to doing the local max, but by operating completely differently (point D), which comes only when we successfully navigate the trough (point C), where it looks like our organization might fail entirely.Here are a few ways that this directly applies to church life.
1) The first graph describes the lifecycle of churches especially when they reach the barrier of two hundred in worship attendance. Reaching two hundred in attendance necessitates a ministry paradigm shift, because pastors can no longer have consistent one on one contact with all their parishioners, because old organizational structures collapse under the weight of more programs and responsibilities, and because parishioners no longer feel “intimacy” because they don’t know everyone they see on Sunday morning.
Most of our pastors, if they’re even good enough to get people to this point, are not trained to see that the “local max” of their congregation is simply one step towards their “big max”. Therefore, rather than helping the church take a step back so they can eventually grow in ministry, pastors do the same things that fit when the church was one hundred people, only more. They visit more parishioners, they preach the same way, do the same programs more often and subsequently get burnt out.
2) What would happen if we trained our pastors to think of two hundred in worship attendance as only a stepping stone for a church on its way to a better place? What if we taught them how to navigate the trough, (point C), and gave them tools to develop new paradigms for ministry (D)? If we did this, I think we’d be surprised at how many that have between 160-200 people on a Sunday morning would become churches of 500 plus in a relatively short time. (And, for you New England United Methodists out there, think about what a difference churches that size could make in terms of finances, resources, collaboration, and mentoring for the rest of the conference.)
3) Going from a church’s local max to its big max requires innovation. Godin suggests taking resources gleaned from your local max, and investing them in a small independent team that invents a completely new product, one that might even compete with the “mother ship”. For churches, this may mean starting new church services or new ministries (e.g. a Saturday night service in a different worship style or a young adult group). However, it most likely means starting a new church on a different site, because the old leadership will be too invested in the success they previously had (the local max) to be willing to shake things up enough to simply take the organization to the next level.
4) What if those of us who are United Methodists were to see our denomination via these charts? In the
I’m not sure whether this is truly a viable possibility or not- it seems to me that we are still trying to live in our glory days (e.g. our pastors are still trained in 1950’s ministry) and that our structure is too invested in perpetuating itself. So, what if the United Methodists were to birth a new conference or new district, and resource it with money and personnel (and a minimum of interference) to find new ways to do church and ministry? Why not birth a new denomination of new-generation Methodists, better able to minister to the emerging generations? Now there’s a thought that could get me in trouble!