Excellent at a Few Things – And Other Laws of Leadership

Excerpted from What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church
By Gary L. McIntosh and Charles Arn (Baker Books)


#57 The Laser Focus Rule
Growing churches do a few things well.


One of the differences we’ve observed between churches that are distinctive and creative versus those that are commonplace and predictable is the “size of their bite.” That is, how much are they trying to be and do. The process is actually counterintuitive. The alive, growing churches are doing less, while the plateaued and declining churches are trying to do everything. The big difference is that the churches doing less are committed to doing it exceptionally well. The churches doing more find they can’t do it all and end up not doing any of it very well. It is the difference between a narrow focus with excellence and a wide focus with mediocrity.


Do you have Sunday school classes for nursery and preschoolers as well as for kindergarten, primary, elementary, and junior high? Do you have classes for high school and college kids, young adults, young marrieds, empty nesters, singles, middle adults, and senior adults? Have you dreamed about small groups in your church for any or all of the above groups? How about midweek Bible study and kids programs? Do you have women’s circles, men’s prayer breakfasts, sports leagues, and programs for young moms? If you have or desire to have all these groups, this rule is for you!

The Laser Focus Rule speaks to church leaders of most congregations today. Basically it says: Do a few things very well, rather than everything not so well. This may sound like a contradiction with No. 51, The Ministry Positions Rule, but it’s not. That rule rightly states that an effective church should have 60 ministry roles and tasks for every 100 constituents. The Laser Focus Rule says that these 60+ roles should be laser-focused on important and productive kingdom work, not an institutional perpetuation of busywork.

Many churches could reduce the number of their institutional programs by 25 percent without doing any damage to their ministry. (Remember No. 53, The 80/20 Rule?) Such a strategic reduction could allow the church to focus on a few ministries that would likely put its quality head and shoulders above other churches in the community. These are called signature ministries—exceptional church-sponsored programs for which the church is known throughout the community.

Churches are not called to start new programs or add new ministries or begin new services. They are called to make new disciples. Too many programs may actually hurt a church’s ability to do this very well. When it comes to effective programming, we recommend narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow.

What You Can Do About It

First, evaluate your current ministries and programs. Which ones contribute the most to the ministry and influence of your church in the community? Which ones establish the most connections with unchurched people? Which ones bring the most newcomers into the life of your church? Which are the ministries where “the action” is? In other words, identify the strong ministries of your church. It is likely that those programs are strong because the people involved in them are strong, passionate, creative, and dedicated. And this highlights an important point—the strengths of your church are the people and passions in your church.

After evaluating your ministries, identify the programs that struggle year after year, the ones for which it is extremely difficult to find people to serve. What are the programs where volunteers seem to either drop out or burn out? Are these activities a part of the church’s programming only because they have always been a part of the church’s programming?

Ask yourself (and others), “If we were starting our church today, which of our present ministry programs would we do? Which would we likely not do?” Make some hard decisions to either terminate ineffective programs or seek a way to redevelop them into more fruitful forms. Seek to eliminate or redesign at least 10 percent of your ministries for the coming year.

One church we know introduced a creative approach to keeping their ministry activities lean and mean. They call it “zero-based programming.” The idea was based on an approach many creative businesses use called zero-based budgeting. In businesses this is where every department must annually justify its existence and its contribution to the greater mission of the company in order to receive funding for the coming year. In the same way zero-based programming requires that the leader of every church program justify the existence of that program and its activities based on its contribution to the greater mission of the church. If the leader can’t do it, no money. For this particular church, it has proven to keep their leaders sharp about finding the best use of their funds, time, and people for the greatest contribution to the church.


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