My wife Ginger recently baked a “sad cake” (chewy coconut, brownie-like pan of goodness). Initially, she was disappointed because the cake stuck to the pan. Then we discovered that it was still melt-in-your-mouth good. How pretty the cake looked was only important to the baker – Ginger. We didn’t want her improving the process if it impacted the taste. The taste was most important to the rest of us.
You face the same temptation if you’re a ministry leader. You want a prettier (maybe larger) ministry. After all, who wants a ministry that sticks to the pan?
A couple of years ago I attended The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas pastored by Matt Chandler. Even though the church was already among the fastest growing in America, if I were judging by appearances alone I would say it was unimpressive.
Here are some of the unimpressive things based on appearance:
– Auditorium was older, dated looking, small and modest
– Worship lighting and slide background loops were limited and simple
– Message slides were not terribly clean or clear looking
– Children’s ministry was held in detached, portable buildings and had a simple look
– All environments were noticeably plain
Despite the unimpressive appearances Matt came up on stage about 10 minutes before the service started and said, “If you’re saving a seat for a friend who’s not here yet they’re not coming. We’ve just closed the parking lot because we’ve reached capacity. So text them and let ‘em know you’ll have to meet for lunch and they should plan on being here earlier next week.”
What the ministry lacked in polish they made up for it with effectiveness! Here are some of the effective non-visual elements that stuck out to me:
– Worship was engaging and utilized professional-quality musicians
– Matt’s message was . . . well Matt Chandler-esque
– Children’s ministry leaders were friendly & helpful explaining our child’s experience and the take-home handouts
– Host team was friendly and personally escorted my wife to every child’s class room
– Overall buzz on the campus was electric
It was obvious that they made a choice to focus first on the effectiveness of their ministry and later on appearances. (Later they bought and remodeled an old grocery store and created incredibly engaging environments). Their process took years.
So how do you protect effectiveness while making improvements?
– Discover what’s already effective. Articulate it. Don’t settle for “things are just going well”. This is a hard process but it’s critical. Identify specifically what God is currently blessing.
– Build a fence around what’s already effective. Protect it and nurture it. It’s a tragedy to hobble effectiveness while chasing pretty.
As long as we’re effective, there are worse things than having a ministry that sticks to the pan.
BTW, that pan of sad cake lasted about two days at our house. 🙂