Friday, September 21, 2007


After talking with her sister, my wife Kristyn asked me if I had heard about the "Extremely Focused Church" conference in Colorado (her sister was going to it). I told her I hadn't heard about it. After some research I realized she was talking about the "Externally Focused Church" conference (which I had heard about). But of the two conference names (one made up; one real) I like the sounds of the Extremely Focused Church conference better, and that's saying a lot, because the idea of being externally focused really resonates with me.

There is something to be said for being extreme. The old "bell curve" theory implied that the place to be was somewhere in the middle. The middle may be where most are, but it is not the place to be, particularly in ministry. The "bell curve" proves to actually be a "well curve." The middle is not the high point, but the low point. The extremes are the high points. The middle is a tar pit.

Wherever you end up, don't end up in the middle. Where is the worst place to be assigned a seat on an airplane? The dreaded middle seat. What is the worst kind of drink you can be served? The room-temperature, luke-warm, "spew-you-out-of-my-mouth" one. It is much better to be either inside or outside, hot or cold. And better to be either small or big. The medium sized church, once prized, is now not big enough for impact, or small enough for intimacy. There is no emotional strength in being in between.

Leonard Sweet explores this mental model a little bit in his book The Gospel According to Starbucks. He says that one of the keys to Starbucks success is its gravitation toward an extreme experience: extremely comfortable, extremely tasty, extremely hot. Maxwell House, on the other hand, is stuck in the middle. But today, the middles are in trouble, while the edges and extremes are vital. The days of the happy medium (related word: mediocre) are gone. Ideas that are dead or dying include middle-ground, mid-management, middle-class, as well as mainline denominations. Both ends now play against the middle in what Sweet calls "an hourglass society."

Examples of the shrinking middle abound:
• The popularity of extreme sports and entertainment.
• The rise in sales of either very big TVs, or very small TVs (and severe decline in the sale of mid-sized ones).
• Release of more automobiles of the extremely small and big varieties, and the decline in popularity of mid-sized vehicles.
• Organizations getting either bigger through acquisitions and merger or smaller through spin offs.
• Portion sizes at restaurants getting bigger, or else smaller.

How do these developments apply to your ministry?


Balance is a biblical idea. For example, it was said of Jesus that He was "full of grace and truth." So there is a need for Christ-followers to stay in balance. But my thoughts about how to achieve this balance have evolved over the last few years. I used to think that you achieve balance by heading toward the middle. Now I realize that balance can be achieved in one of two ways; 1) by heading toward the middle, or 2) by counterbalancing on the edges. For instance, you can balance a teeter totter by coming to the middle of it and straddling the fulcrum, or by having equivalent weight applied to each end of the board. Of the two approaches, I like "balance by extreme."

An example of where "balance by extremes" might serve you well is in the area of worship. For example, if the extremes are "rockin' worship" on one end of the teeter-totter, and "old-time hymns" on the other, you might be better to do an extreme version of each in a service (really rock out, and really sign a hymn) than to try to put the two in a blender and come out with something that doesn't give you the taste of either. I know from experience that "blended" worship is not very tasty.

Group life is another one of the areas where I don't think you can go part-way and be successful. If you are going to make your ministry about relationships, then really make your ministry about relationships. Don't dabble here, or go half-way. Stick with your emphasis on small groups, and keep reaching out relationally. You can't "kind of" make small groups a priority. You have to make small groups your nearly exclusive activity. You have to go to extremes.


Part of CTK's appeal is that you will often find us at both ends of the teeter-totter. We've reached a balance by being extremely graceful and truthful, not by being slightly both. We've been engaging because our services present bleeding-edge music, with old-fashioned Biblical teaching. We've achieve impact by being extremely big as a network, and small as individual groups and centers, instead of a church that is somewhere in between, both, or neither. We've expanded rapidly by simultaneously strengthening the core of our mission, visions and values and expanding the frontier into new communities.


As a basketball official I can tell you that the worst angle from which to see the play is the middle of the key, right under the basket. You are much better off to get a "wide angle" toward the the corner of the court. In fact, officials are taught to imagine the area below the basket as "quicksand." You don't want to find yourself there, and if you do, you want to get through it as quickly as possible. Likewise in your ministry, don't get caught in the quick-sand of middle-ground. Go to extremes.


From Leonard Sweet, The Gospel According to Starbucks:

One example of how to bring the ends together in a well-curve work, and the benefits of a simultaneous engagement of both ends of the continuum, is the competing food habits of indulgence and wellness. "Contradictory consumers" are going in opposite directions at the same time. We go from Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream or Krispy Kreme Donuts to the organic salad bar or raw juice bar....

We live in a Godiva culture of indulgence layered upon indulgence lathered with a whipped-cream topping of guilty pleasures and a final red cherry of repentance. This is also a culture obsessed with weight and health consciousness. We have the highest obesity rates in the world, and eating disorders run rampant. How do you bring these "dueling extremes" of death-by-chocolates and squeaky-clean foods together?

The blended, cut-to-the-middle solution of the bell-curve world was to introduce low-cal, low-far chocolate. That didn't work. Why eat chocolate if you can't enjoy the fat-drenched flavor of decadence? People want the experience of luxurious chocolate. They don't want halfway, diluted experiences of chocolate. But they also want a responsible weight-management program, one that can make a difference and not just create delusions of health.

The key is to offer consumers two opposite experiences at the same time. Hence portion-controlled chocolates. Nestle's Butterfinger Stixx and Hershey's Sticks offer the binge experience of chocolate in a way that doesn't adversely impact the body. Hershey's Sticks, with a tagline promising a "convenient guilt-free way to indulge in chocolate," is available in an eleven-gram, sixty-calorie bar, with a choice of milk, dark, caramel, or mint-flavored chocolate. In a similar vein, Nabisco has introduced 100 Calorie Packs (portion-control versions of indulgent snacks such as Oreos and Cheese Nips).

How could this "solution by extremes" apply to your ministry?

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