::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: You'll Get More When You Ask For Less - Dr. Dan Reiland ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: "What? What do you mean, 'You'll get more when you ask for less'?! That flies in the face of all that we know about the 'big ask' and challenging people to big dreams!" This was the response of a pastor when I offered a different, more intentional and strategic approach to getting commitment from his congregation. His name is Michael (name changed), a pastor in Pennsylvania who is frustrated because of the perceived low commitment level of his congregation. Michael said to me over and over, "It's a struggle to get them to show up, let alone participate." Knowing that Michael is not alone, I'm writing this month on commitment with some observations, thoughts, and experience that I trust will be practical, helpful, and encouraging to you. The primary assumption in this article is that people are willing to make commitments. First, let me say that the idea of getting more when you ask for less has an exception. The exception is in the area of finance. When it comes to money, if you ask for less - that's what you'll get. Commitment is a frustrating area of ministry. And the 21st Century experience of time compression doesn't help. The "internet world" has increased our pace of life. Even your most committed leaders "bag" meetings because they are too busy. The majority of your congregation will give up to three "time blocks" a week to the church, but it's likely you are asking for more. Several problems arise from this scenario: 1. You dilute the significance of the important things by asking for "everything." 2. You unintentionally overwhelm the people, causing them to get frustrated or feel defeated. Their way of coping is to become inconsistent or choose to do nothing. 3. You lessen your own leadership by communicating a lack of focus and clear direction - also known as "program hopping." 4. The people think that "nothing really happens" at many of the things you want them to attend. (Hey, that's what they think so you need to embrace the reality!) This perceived lack of value causes them to rethink participating the next time. It is common for the leadership of the church to ask the congregation to attend a list of activities such as, but not limited to: (1.) Sunday morning church. (2.) Sunday night church. (3.) Wednesday night Bible study, prayer meeting or other church service. (4.) Participation in a ministry - with all that entails. (5.) Small group - sometimes two (a couples "home group" plus a men's or women's small group)! (6.) Sunday school class. (7.) Whatever special or seasonal event that's on the calendar. (8.) A meeting or two. (9.) Dropping their kids off at the youth activities. (10.) A special training class. (11.) And of course, inviting a friend. This condition of asking for too much puts your people in a physical and emotional gridlock. They literally throw up their hands (I've seen them do this in several churches as I conduct "focus groups"), and ask: "What is important here? What do they want?" Some church leaders argue that offering many options provides "more hooks for more people." I don't believe that works. There are always exceptions, such as with multiple worship services. That's a good thing - but you are only asking them to attend once and giving them a clear set of choices. When pushed to identify the "big three," pastors will usually say they want participation in: (1.) Sunday morning worship. (2.) Ministry. (3.) Small group (of any kind). Are there challenges to this? Of course, but we can't give up on this idea because there are challenges. The first, and perhaps largest, challenge is if discipleship is not taking place in your small groups, where does it happen? This is a topic for another issue of "The Pastor's Coach." My encouragement and challenge to you is this: 1. Gather as a leadership team and list all of the things you ask of your people in a given week and month. Talk about which of those things are directly connected to the process of life change and which are merely a "one more thing." 2. Face the reality of "the big three" principle and determine your priorities. Agree together that as a team you will ask your people for these things. 3. Don't get hung up on the number three as much as the principle of limited and intentional "asks." However, I would challenge you to find a few growing congregations that get the majority of their people to attend or participate in four or more things a week. Compare your church to theirs before you raise the number. The key word is "majority." We are not discussing your core leaders and the small percentage of people who will show up every time the doors are open - or when you promise free pie and coffee! 4. Determine which of your ministries and activities are not effective. What can be cut from your program? If they are ineffective but can't be cut, why not? A good way to make this determination is to measure the effectiveness of the ministry by its Great Commission "fruit" - changed lives. If it doesn't change lives, don't do it. The tough decision is based on the fact that there are many good and life-changing ministries that God is not calling you to do. They must be cut as well. 5. Give yourself permission to ask for attendance/participation beyond your selected priorities if the commitment is short-term and involves a select group of the congregation. For example, a Membership Class or a New Christian's Class involves a small percentage of your people and is a short-term commitment. Some churches, accidentally or intentionally, make headway on this issue because many of their people are involved in volunteer ministry, perhaps monthly instead of weekly. Another idea is to have the small groups meet only twice a month instead of every week. There are certainly many creative ways to approach this situation. My desire is to cause you to look at the "big idea" and go from there. Keep your eyes on the real goal. . . life change.