How does picking surfboards = creating church programs?
On Monday, we focused on how churches need to engage with the waves of cultural change that seem to be hitting us from all directions. We need to ask: is this a preference or is it a principle of doing ministry? Now that we are clear on our ministry principles, here comes the big question: what should we do to ensure our church programs are effective?
Picking the right surf board.
When we lived in Hawaii, I constantly heard the debates about what surfboard was the best. I heard people almost willing to come to blows about what the best places to surf are, what boards are best and where you could catch the killer wave. In the end, they were all right and they were all wrong because they forgot about a key principle.
Here is the key: The best wave and best board is the one you can actually ride.
While you may say “duh” at that, how many times to we buy a surfboard, skis, or hoverboard based on what we think is cool and then end up with something we crash and burn with. The same applies for computers, cameras, cooking appliances and even exercise machines. We all have high hopes but unless we get clear on what we can do and ensure we have the motivation to do it, it really doesn’t matter.
Picking the right surf board.
Going back to the surfboard example, we need a way to evaluate it. When looking for the right surfboard, there are a couple questions to ask:
- What is the objective? I can surf for fun or try to surf competitively. If I surf for fun, do I want to surf locally or when I go on vacation. This drives the rest of our decisions.
- What is my skill level? Beginners typically learn on a longboard with thick rails and a wider tail. It requires greater skill to ride shorter waves since it requires a shorter board. Be very honest in your skills or you may pay too much for the wrong board and end up wiping out and breaking your board.
- Where do I want to surf? The smaller the waves, the shorter the surfboard needs to be. It greater skill to ride a short board in small waves, so you may need to find the right beach for your skill level and board length. Wave characteristics also have an impact on which board will perform best in the conditions you are looking to surf.
- Does the board I am looking at have both the strength and flexibility I need to achieve my objective? A board is made of three components: foam, fiberglass and resin. Cheaper boards skimp on one of these three materials and it results in dings and board breaks when you are trying to surf.
- Is it the right size and weight (volume to weight ratio)? The size and weight of the board (otherwise known as the volume to weight ratio) needs to be finely tuned to the weight and the skill of the surfer. A board needs sufficient buoyancy to support a surfer’s weight. Too little buoyancy and you will sink. Too much and it will be really hard to surf. So, while a someone is learning how to surf may need a board that is 2.0 lbs/L, a professional will need a board that is over 6 lbs/L to be able to make the aggressive cutbacks and moves to win. You need to find a good volume that suits your fitness, ability and comfort level in the surf, and see what boards you can find in that range. This may change where you want to surf and what boards would best work for you.
Using several key questions can make sure that you get the right board for you and get you off to the right start to catch a wave. So…what the heck does this have to do with church programs.
Church Programs = Cultural Surfboard
Church programs (and I use that word loosely) follow the same thought process.
- What is my objective? What do I hope to accomplish and how will I know when I accomplish it? For the church, it could start with numerical growth. Ask why and what I hope to accomplish this objective. If it is to keep the doors open, then you may have an issue since it is a self centered objective and people can see straight through it. On the other hand, if it is to live into the Great Commission more fully to make disciples of Jesus Christ, then you are at the start of something. It will lead you to the question…who are the unchurched, undiscipled, or even “lost” in my community?
- What is my skill level? In other words, what are my capabilities to effectively achieve this objective? What can my current lay people and staff do versus not do. Nothing is more disastrous than a church trying to do something it isn’t good at at and watching them faceplant in the process. Maybe your church is excellent at hospitality or has a killer choir. Get clear on your assets and honestly assess them. Understand what your church does well and validate it with data and just don’t assume we are good. Even ask people not in the church to assess and verify your strengths. The beach is littered with broken boards of people who weren’t clear on what they were good at and there are a lot of abandoned church buildings for the same reason.
- Where do I want to surf? Play off your strengths and look to leverage them to meet your objective. Taking from the “making disciples” objective, ask yourself, what can we offer these “unchurched” groups that would relevant, meaningful and timely to the people you are trying to reach. Maybe you have a bunch of retired teachers in your church and they could provide a tutoring program to connect with young families trying to figure out “common core math” since it does not make sense to them. From there, what can we do to help bring them in closer connection with Christ and our body of believers.
- Does this give me the strength and flexibility I need to achieve my objective? Cultural waves, like ocean waves, shift and change constantly. Does your “program” provide you the ability to adapt and change over time? How will you shift gears if it is not working? Do you have enough commitment behind the idea so it can survive when a specific activity fails or when the person in charge goes away for some reason (like a corporate relocation)?
- Is it the right size and weight? Think about the objectives, skills, resources and passion you have to support a program as well as the difficulty of what you are trying to do. Many church programs are too big and bulky for what they want to accomplish and then it sinks by its own weight. Right size your idea to fit the people, budget and passion inside the church and then ask, “is it sufficient to make an impact?” If not, go back to the drawing board.
Churches constantly dream up of ideas for new programs to support their mission and often fail. I believe this is because they did not properly evaluate it in the context of their objective, skills and environment to ensure it can be successful before it ever starts. Instead, we get so caught up with someone “having an idea” that we do not want to discourage them and we never consider the cost of doing it and the impact of wiping out on the church mission.