More Information = Less Clarity

When it comes to teaching, is it not true that we bombard our people with lots of information? The research we have done may well be from the Bible and trusted theological commentators, but so often we present way too many truth units! We often lose sight of the main thing we want our people to “take away” from the lesson.

The Big Idea: Focus on the Message-Multiply the Impact… 1

BUSINESSES: The result is a church with more information and less clarity than perhaps ever before, but the church is not alone in its predicament. Businesses also get distracted with lots of little ideas and forget the Big Idea. Many marketplace leaders are relearning the importance of the Big Idea in regard to advertising. It was a multimillion-dollar sock-puppet ad during Super Bowl XXXIV that epitomized the absurdity of the advertising during the dot-com bubble. This same era brought us commercials with cowboys herding cats, singing chimps, and a talking duck — all great entertainment, but they didn’t convey a thing about the brands they represented. Brand consultants Bill Schley and Carl Nichols Jr., in their book, Why Johnny Can’t Brand: Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea, tell us this type of advertising is not effective branding. Schley and Nichols teach companies to redefine their products in terms of a single, mesmerizing “Dominant Selling Idea.” They go on to explain that somewhere along the way, “Johnny” forgot the basics of revealing the Big Idea in an easy, everyday way that cements a brand as top dog in the hearts and minds of consumers without resorting to puffery and shallow glitz. What are businesses learning? That “more” results in less clarity. (And less money!)

THE CHURCH: We have bombarded our people with too many competing little ideas, and the result is a church with more information and less clarity than perhaps ever before.
Don’t misunderstand — this is not a rant against entertainment or churches that are entertaining. I actually think churches should be more entertaining. But that’s a rant for another book. This is a rant against churches that don’t discipline themselves to create experiences that convey and challenge people with one Big Idea at a time. Why? Because the lack of clarity that we give our people impedes the church’s ability to accomplish the mission of Jesus. “More” results in less clarity.

THE POINT: Let’s see about refining our message so that people can grasp it. If one can’t explain it to someone else, they really have not “gotten it.” Let’s not circle the room looking for a place to land, but enter the classroom with the Big Idea we want our students to hold on to. Everything we do should support the main idea for the day.

1 Ferguson, D., Ferguson, J., & Bramlett, E. (2009). The big idea: focus the message—multiply the impact. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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Simple Church, Part 2

Simple Church: Return to God’s Process for Making Disciples
(Rainer and Geiger)

This is a very easy to read and understand assessment of the church in America. The authors provide research to support the assertion that church in America has become complex; leaving a simple strategy that attracts people and moves them into deeper levels of commitment to Christ and the community.

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” — Hans Hofmann

The church is in need of an extreme makeover. The authors propose four simple keys to developing a simple strategy: clarity, movement, alignment and focus.

Defining a Simple Church – a simple church is defined as “a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.” Let’s look at this definition.

  1. Designed means that it is not carelessly thrown together but rather it is thought-out, structured and designed with care and prayer.
  2. Around means that all programs and ministries revolve around something. They are not intended to just fill a calendar, but rather they revolve around the stated and publicized core values (mission) of the church.
  3. Straightforward means that it is not confusing, but rather easy to grasp. The leaders know it and congregation understands it. The process is intentionally kept simple.
  4. Strategic means that all programs are tied in to the purpose or vision of the church. It is designed to impact people’s lives.
  5. Moves people means that the process moves people to greater commitment to Christ and His church. Perhaps this movement will attract people through worship services and then move people toward small group experiences, then in time, move them toward Christian service.
  6. Through the stages of spiritual growth is really the goal of the whole process. God changes lives and people are conformed to the image of Christ.

The church is designed to partner with God in moving people through stages of spiritual growth; to structure the church around a process of spiritual transformation. The authors suggest that the church in America today needs an “extreme makeover;” a new design for church ministry.

This is the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people. Basically, the people get it. Their purpose is easy to recall and quote. It is communicated through the pastor, the staff, church leaders and each specialized ministry.

This is the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment. The hand-off is extremely important, much like the relay race in the Olympics; if the baton is dropped, the team will not win.

This is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process. All are moving in the same direction, operating from the same blueprint. No one program is completing for the constituency. There is a tendency to drift from alignment. Like in tires, the church needs a realignment at times.

This is the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process. It requires saying “yes” to some things and “no” to all others. Focus is the element that gives power and energy to clarity.

Hezekiah and Makeovers:
Second Kings 18:1-12 records the reforms of King Hezekiah. He removed one of the sacred items that turned into an object of worship. Remember the bronze snake on the pole (Numbers 21:6-8)? The once relevant item turned into an idol. This was likely an unpopular decision, but it was the right thing to do.

“Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” — Jesus, Matthew 16:18

The Theology of Gates:
The gates of hell are powerless to contain the movement of the gospel. Gates are also defensive, not offensive. Think about who is on the attack. The church always has the ball, or is always at bat. Victory is guaranteed, we know who wins at the end.

Fringe Benefits of a Simple Church:
Increased morale (by defining the Great Commission in the form of a simple disciple-making process), Urgency (ever increasing urgency to see people move through the process rather than just see conversions), Spiritual Growth (people becoming proactive in their own development, commitments to small groups and inviting friends), Conversions (greater commitment to Christ leads people to share their faith), Stewardship (eliminating programs that did not align with the process), Unity (becoming a closer family by agreeing on the process and consolidating efforts).

Sample Simplicity of Other Churches:

  1. Emmanuel Baptist in Glasgow Kentucky – “Connecting, Growing, Serving”
  2. Christ Fellowship in Miami – “Connect to God, others, ministry and the lost”
  3. Northpoint Community near Atlanta – they seek to move people from the “foyer to the kitchen.”
    1. The foyer is the entry point of the fellowship (perhaps large group worship).
    2. The living room is where relationships are built (perhaps a special event experience offered at strategic times).
    3. The kitchen is where the most intimate conversations occur (small group with accountability).