As church leaders, we often hear many good ideas to further the mission of the church. And most of them probably are good ideas. The trick is determining which ideas are the best.
In the church, opinions and options seem endless. Everyone has a brilliant plan or groundbreaking idea that should be implemented right away. However, author Chris McChesney said, “There will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute them.”
It is easy to say yes. But how do you decide when to say no?
Author Larry Osborne gives us a clue. In Sticky Leaders he says, “If something doesn’t take us toward our mission, it takes us away from our mission, even if it’s a great idea.” If we say yes to too many good ideas, we quickly lose focus. Too many options overwhelm people, divide attention, and dilute impact.
Saying no can be the most difficult, yet most critically important part of ministry.
So why don’t more churches say no? Why is saying no so difficult? Below are two reasons church leaders find it difficult to say no.
They don’t want to be the bad guy
Christian leaders are supposed to be nice, right? Yet it somehow seems “unchristian” to deny a person’s sincere request or good idea.
Leaders need to decide if they’re called to be nice and fulfill everyone’s wants or called to be focused and direct people to what they need. An alcoholic wants a drink. But a drink isn’t what he needs. He needs rehab and should be directed there.
It is easy to misunderstand the difference between needs and wants, and many churches confuse the two.
I once knew of a church whose care department often used the motto, “See the need. Meet the need.” Sounds good on paper, but its fatal flaw was a lack of clarity. This ambiguity led the team to host 20-plus large Christmas dinners for people in the community each December. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it burned out many on the team. They failed to determine what people really need.
Often, churches and ministries get bogged down by offering too many options. In Simple Church,Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger encourage church leaders to remain focused and say no to almost everything that doesn’t fit into their ministry blueprint. This leads to the second reason it’s hard to say no.
They haven’t clarified their priorities
Some might ask, “Why would we ever want to say no to a person’s need or someone’s idea? Don’t we want to minister to people?” The answer is yes. We want to minister to people. But it’s important to minister effectively. And that calls for focus.
Author and theologian Tim Keller wrote, “The larger the church, the more it tends to concentrate on doing a few things well. Smaller churches are generalists and feel they need to do everything…The larger church however, identifies and concentrates on approximately three to four major things and works to do them extremely well, despite calls for new emphases.”
Pastor and author Andy Stanley also encourages church leaders to narrow the focus. He says, “Churches have a natural tendency to get more complex.” Greater levels of complexity are inevitable, so focus must be intentional.
For years, church leaders have thought, “If some is good, more is better.” Not true! Broadening the focus offers more. Narrowing the focus offers less, but accomplishes more, because a narrow focus points people directly where they need to go.
There’s power in focus! Consider light. Diffused light shines a weak beam on a large area. But if the focus is narrowed, the light shines brighter on a smaller area. Focus the light intensely, and it becomes a laser, with the ability to cut steel. With laser-like focus, we do less but accomplish more.
When we know our priorities, it’s easier to say no. And effective churches find saying no to anything that doesn’t point them to their mission actually increases organizational output and effectiveness. Stanley says it’s somewhat counter-intuitive, but we need to do fewer things in order to have greater impact.
Saying no can actually transform your church and ministry. So clarify your priorities, and don’t be afraid to be the bad guy. You aren’t. You’re allowing your church to accomplish more by doing only what’s most important.
Mark Lenz / Mark J. Lenz is a faith-based business owner and church consultant helping churches create organizational health and bringing clarity and focus to ministry and mission.