Last month I did a breakout session at the ECHO Church Media Conference called Reworking Church Communications. In the session I highlighted 10 different ideas to challenge and change the way we approach church communications. Over the next month or so, I’m going to unpack the 10 ideas I presented [Jerod Clark at ChurchJuice did a great job summarizing them here] and flesh them out a little bit more.
Regardless of what your particular role in your church may be, I believe it’s safe “the way we’ve always done it” isn’t working anymore. The world around us has changed dramatically due to the advances in technology and our changing economy. We’re living in a new reality that requires us to go against conventional wisdom and rework the way we do what we do.
One idea that is especially relevant to me right now is the idea that Constraints are a Blessing.
We tend to avoid things that hinder us. Freedom is always preferred over constraint. We’d rather have more than less. But as we’ve seen in the changing world we live in….small is the new big, less is more, and yes, even constraints are a blessing.
At Park we are in the midst of a challenge we’ve never encountered before: we’re behind on our budget. Our fiscal year runs (oddly) from September-August of each year and with the end of our fiscal year coming we can see there’s going to be a gap between what we budgeted and what people actually gave. It’s not a huge gap or anything worth getting too stressed over… it is what it is.
We’ve had an amazing year of ministry… we’ve grown over 26% in the last year; added another campus, now reaching 3 neighborhoods across the city; we’ve seen over 100 people go public with their faith and be baptized; and the list goes on. We have so much to be thankful for and at the same time recognize that we’ve got some challenges ahead of us.
Our leadership team sat and worked over our projected budget for next year and decided that people were more important than programs, so instead of cutting jobs, we’re cutting back on some non-essentials. We’ve all taken pretty big hits to our individual ministry budgets [mine was reduced by nearly 50%], and we’ve all agreed we are going to have to live with a new reality… one that is going to force us to embrace some constraints.
I was a little disappointed, I had some cool ideas in the pipeline for next year and those are going to have to go on hold for now, but to tell you the truth I’m really excited. Here’s why…
Constraints force us to realize what’s essential.
One of the biggest hindrances we face in Western culture is our abundance. Churches have a hard time saying “no” to new ideas, programs, and initiatives. And while continuing to expand our reach and do all we can to reach more people, more “stuff” can really get in the way of us doing what is truly essential. One famous buzz phrase we hear often at church leadership conferences is, “if your church vanished tomorrow what would your community miss most?” That’s a dramatic place to start, but what if you looked at everything your church did in any given year and decided that instead of 40 events you’d do 20. Not only would you be doing less, you’d be doing what you are doing with greater care and excellence. Chances are that as you begin to take away different things you’ll find what’s really core or key to your church’s DNA and the things to make your church what it is and the role it is truly called to play in the life of your community. Doing too much can actually hinder us from doing what we are really supposed to be doing. Constrains can help us pare down to what’s vital and focus our energy, time, and attention.
Constraints actually give us more space to be creative.
Believe it or not, constraints actually make us more creative. In his book Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky argues that creativity is formed within confines. G.K. Chesterton says, “Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.” Having constraints gives us a defined starting and ending point. While most creatives want space for artistic expression, having no boundaries can be worse than having a defined space to play in. When we know we don’t have much to work with it forces us to reinvent and rethink how we what we do in the limited space we have provided.
Constrains force us to make the most out of what we’ve already got.
Having less means having to maximize and make the most out of what you already have. I think all too often we can become preoccupied with what we don’t have. We think that if we get the best website, the newest HD camera, a better logo, or ______________ (you can fill in your own blank) that things will instantly get better. That’s not always the case. Content is what matters most. A great camera doesn’t make up for a bad script. [But that's another tangent, back to the point...] Chances are you already have most of what you already need, you just need to do something with it. Effective and expensive are not synonymous. You can do some great things with little or next to nothing.
Someone I’m continually amazed by is Jason Widney, our Media Arts Director at Park. He’s one of the few people I know that can take some styrofoam panels, paint, and few lights and make something absolutely breathtaking. Less really does more. And oftentimes, it only takes a little to do a lot.
Constraints increase our dependence on God.
Not to get all cheesy here, but it’s true. When our proverbial well runs dry it makes us look to the source. I believe that in seasons of lack we find ourselves increasingly dependent on God. And honestly, there’s nothing greater that we should be leaning into but God Himself. We can get pretty reliant on our own talent or ability, or even our own budgets. When we have to look to God to provide it changes the game significantly. It doesn’t require us to do much but trust and have faith.
All throughout the Bible we read stories of instances where there was little but God showed up in a big way and made it much. From the loves and fish feeding 5,000 to a group of 12 guys who, by society’s standards, were hindered by their lack of education, He used situations, circumstances and people who seemed to be restrained to do some of His most mighty work. God can take our little and make it much.
I know these challenges are not new to many churches and ministries, but it’s a new reality for us at Park. While there is some uncertainty ahead, I’m excited about this next season because I really believe God is going to do some significant things in all of our lives and in the life of our church as we grow more dependent on Him!
Constraints are a blessing, they are an exercise in our faith and trust in God to provide.