Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Lose 50 to gain 500

I've had a few conversations in the past week about ministry stuff, leadership, leading volunteers, and the like. And this one phrase seems to keep rearing its head, "You have to be willing to lose the 50 people to gain 500."

Sometimes it has shown up as a variation of the same idea, most memorably "You have to be able to piss off 50 to get 500." This probably isn't a new phrase or mindset to you. It may make you think of something a bit more familiar. Like, "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."

Hard boiled eggs make bad omelets

I'm well aware that the reason for a mantra such is this is the realization that you can never please everyone. And you have to be willing to allow some people to just get mad about what you're doing (if you're doing what God has called you to do), and to just go on with the vision God has given you.

But I do have some reservations about using a statement like this as a mantra. Reasons we should stop and think just how wise it is to respond (either out loud, or just in our heads) to the news of someone leaving a ministry with a shrug of your shoulders and a muttering of "Well, you have to piss off 50 to gain 500."

Who are the 50 people you're losing?

Those 50 people whom you're allowing to get mad and leave your ministry: Who are they?

  • Are they naysayers & fault finders who would leave eventually anyway? 
  • Are they onlookers who are only really around as an empty seat, to see what you can "offer" them? You know, the consumerists?
  • Are they contributors? Volunteers who are there week in and week out, making sacrifices for your programs out of commitment to the cause?
  • Are they people who were once sold out to a particular church/ministry and can just no longer put up with the extra garbage that comes packaged in with all the great aspects? 
  • Are they people genuinely looking for answers, honestly seeking out truth? 
  • Are they people who assume to know the truth already, and their version is different than yours?
  • Are they people who simply have personalities who clash with ours?

Who are the 500 people you're gaining?

This is a sacrificial exchange. The gain better be worth the loss, so who are you gaining?
  • Consumers? Empty seats who don't give of their money or their time and are looking to take from you instead?
  • Or the sacrificial volunteers? Maybe you're getting people who are sold out to what God is doing through the ministry you're a part of.
  • Un-churched or de-churched? People who hate the culture of Christianity, and associate God with it? People who really need some light in their life?
  • People who want to build a closed off kingdom? Those who want a comfortable institution to hide in?
  • Or those who know they need to be inclusive? Radically inclusive & inviting to everyone.
Frankly, the opportunity cost of 50 vs 500 is pretty darn big. So we better be sure we know who we're ditching and who we're gaining. Because if we're determined to piss off 50 to gain 500, we better not be exchanging 50 sold out volunteers for 500 consuming seat-fillers.

That's not a great exchange. And it's a surefire way to make sure that 10% of the people really are doing 90% of the work of ministry. See how well that works out. How long that will last.

One other thing that's rolling around my head about this whole mantra:

What about that 1 sheep?

You know the one. The sheep from Jesus' parable in Luke 15: 3-7. Jesus talks about a shepherd who has 100 sheep, loses 1, leaves the 99 behind to go look for the 1 and bring him back in.

The shepherd leaves his 99 behind to go get the 1. That's not a very great trade off, is it? If we were sticking with our mantra, would we say that it's better to be willing to lose the 1 sheep to gain the 99? Is it worth pissing off the 1 sheep, to keep the other 99?

Or do we look at it like the parable, where the remaining 99 sheep were left behind "in the open country," where they could run off just as that 1 sheep did in the first place; and think that maybe those 50 people need us to recklessly seek after them just as much as the 500? That perhaps we shouldn't so easily shake them off and discard them?

Perhaps it may be easier to anger the 50 to keep or gain the 500...but is it truly better? Is it really right?

What do you think? Have you heard this phrase (or one like it) before? Are you a proponent of this kind of mindset? Or is there something about it which just doesn't sit right with you?

Would love to know your thoughts.