When Less Is Actually More
Ryan Lamberson

Ryan has more than 14 years’ experience serving in the local church, leading in various leadership roles. Currently, Ryan serves as the Executive Pastor at Word of Life Church—a thriving church that serves thousands every weekend located in Flowood Mississippi—and also works as a ministry consultant around the country. Ryan and his wife Hope serve together at Word of Life Church and have three boys: Maximus, Lake, and Jagger.

Discover how a shift can make all the difference in your church by contacting Ryan Lamberson at Shift Group Church Consulting. Visitor our website at www.shiftgroup.tv or contact Ryan by phone: 601-421-2627 or email: ryan@shiftgroup.tv

When Less Is Actually More by Ryan Lambert

A few months ago I had the opportunity to consult with two different churches in a couple days’ time. During my short time with them I discovered that both churches had gifted senior pastors, hardworking staff, and a big desire to be more effective. After spending time listening and learning I saw something with both churches that is very common. What I found was a lot of activity, but frustration caused by knowing they could be more effective. Each of the two churches had the same challenge, but each looked a little different.

Church #1

As I met with the first churches staff, I learned how overloaded their ministry calendar was. There was men’s ministry, women’s ministry, prayer ministry, community events, breakfast meetings, small groups, etc…every month. They were striving to figure out how to announce and get people to all they had planned. As I saw the tiredness and frustration on the faces in front of me I asked them to walk me through what they were doing to attract and connect new people to the church. After a long pause it was evident that the church had gotten too busy trying to maintain an overly demanding ministry schedule. As a result they had neglected investing time into areas that would grow the church (productivity).

Over the next hour or so I shared with them how most people didn’t have enough time in their week to attend everything that was scheduled. This meant all the time and resources they had invested were never going to get the result they wanted. It was if everyone at the table sighed in unison because they realized they had been spinning their wheels for some time now. The remainder of my time with them was spent on explaining how many times less can be more.

Focusing on a few things and doing them well will almost always give a better result than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. We quickly identified which ministries and events were working and which ones needed to be retired. Suddenly, less became more as they committed to making the shift from moving beyond busyness into effectiveness.

Because they decided to say ‘no’ to some things, it now allowed them to say ‘yes’ to spending more time in the areas that would grow the church—like the weekend service(s). Many times we need the gift of perspective to make the shift we need to grow again.

Church # 2

After a couple hours of driving, I arrived at the second church. The pastor told me they had recently started doing small groups and how it didn’t seem like it had caught in the church like he had hoped. I asked the pastor if they were still doing large group ministry like men’s and women’s ministries, which meant organizing large group events. He said they were. I asked what the win was for these ministries and events. He told me it was to give his people fellowship, community, and not to mention hearing a good message. I asked if they had run into spending a lot of time and financial resources to put on these ministry events and he nodded yes. After hearing what I suspected, I shared with him my reason for asking was because it sounded a lot like some of the same lessons we navigated through several years ago at the church I serve at.

When churches offer large group ministries and small group ministries they become competing systems and cannibalize each other. People must choose one or the other, because like most of us, we have limited time available after family and work responsibilities. When churches have multiple events or ministries without alignment it compounds work and diminishes results.

Churches that continue to offer so many events or large group ministry create unhealthy competition. It creates more work for the staff and becomes harder for those attending church to decide what’s most important to attend. To combat dwindling attendance for these events and large groups, our thinking becomes to push the events harder or offer free food to get the numbers we want at our large group events. This equals more work and money to maintain the number of those attending, generally with no greater results.

Even if this works temporarily, the fact of competing systems still remains and doing more translates into doing less because people will chose one and not the many ministries being offered. I shared with the pastor that less would equal more if the focus became just on small groups.

In this scenario, members would no longer have to choose what the most important ministry event is to attend because the church makes the decision to simplify. Shifting from large group ministry is the perfect example of less being more. Small groups give the members the ability to decide what small group is a best fit for their schedule and interest. The result in making this shift is focused alignment of people and money resources on one ministry that’s effective, which brings unity and results.

In the case of both the churches mentioned, there was a desire to meet the needs of their congregation through offering several options. It is similar to a restaurant with a large menu that has no specialty dishes; therefore, the quality of the food suffers leaving the customer dissatisfied with the experience. In all of our efforts to offer and do more for our congregation, we inevitably produce ministries and events that lack quality, therefore attenders and members are left dissatisfied with the experience.

A common answer I get when asking churches why they do large group ministry and so many events is because they want to help meet the need of people wanting fellowship. I respond to the answer with the question, “if people want fellowship so badly, why not offer it to them weekly through small groups verses monthly or even less frequently through a men’s, women’s, marrieds’, or college age ministry, etc…?”

This is a model that enables the work of the ministry to be done by leaders in the church. It also saves a tremendous amount of time invested by pastors and their staff, not to mention it saves money by not having to pay staff and feed members breakfast or lunch.

The other reason I regularly hear for still doing large group ministry is that people enjoy the messages. I believe people definitely enjoy the messages, but the amount of effort large group ministry requires distracts from the most important thing we do all week—which is the Sunday morning service(s). Additionally, most of the time these types of events happen on a Saturday and the senior pastor feels the pressure to be the speaker for a men’s event and the pastor’s wife for the women’s event. Most of the people attending these events will only have to wait less than 24 hours before they hear another great message from the pastor on Sunday morning. After they hear the Sunday message they will have forgotten about the one they heard the day before.

Too often we continue to do more and more because we rarely stop and evaluate what ministries are still working and which aren’t. A good indicator that a ministry needs to be reevaluated is if the leadership feels like they have to increasingly work harder to motivate people to attend it or it has stopped growing for some time. Another good rule of thumb to ask when evaluating an existing ministry is to ask yourself the question, “If I didn’t work at the church, would I actually want to attend this event?” If the answer is ‘no,’ then the people who attend the church probably don’t want to come either.

I would encourage church leaders to take a look at their ministry calendar at least annually to see which ministries are thriving and which are dying. Having less on the calendar can lead to doing more quality ministry in the area that matters most: the weekend service(s). Weekend services are the driver for everything in the church. Making the shift to spend more time on the weekends and less time on ministries that have dried up will position the church to be at its best.