This is a book that really deserved more than a brief overview. This book is a must read for anyone in ministry that feels the pinch of leaner times and having to do more ministry with fewer people, fewer dollars and not enough space. The authors are part of a consulting group called Living Stones Associates where they have been helping churches work through the very issues they address in this book.
The book is divided into four sections covering for significant areas you can do more with less. Each chapter lays out a single change your church can make to do more with less. The chapters are concise and easy to read, making this book very accessible. Though easy to read, the various topics addressed throughout would all take time and additional resources to work through. Overall, I would say this is an excellent high-level book that can help you map out a strategy in each of the four areas covered. I would suggest this is a must read for pastor's and an excellent read for your board. Given its accessibility, I can see it being used to get your board onside with what could be some major changes that are barriers to your health and growth. Starting with this book and many of the footnoted resources you can develop a plan forward.
This section covers how to do more ministry with fewer resources. The biggest take away in this section is found on the first page. "Nine times out of ten, the problem isn't too few workers, its too many slots" (p19) The authors point out we too often have too many programs and too many slots to fill. They encourage us to seriously look at the resources we have and program accordingly. If you are running 3 different children's programs and barely getting by, you may be more effective running 2. (As I was editing this post I saw this post from the Malphurs Group with some tips for cutting a good ministry for something better) By consolidating the good parts of each program you will likely end up with a more effective program and fewer overtaxed volunteers. I heard this articulated by a speaker once who said we need to think inside the box. It runs counter to the popular belief that we must do something different, that we must think outside the box. The speaker pointed out that this can lead to a mindset of "if only we had x we could do great things" rather than being faithful with the people and resources God has provided us. The speaker went on to say that they had found as they were faithful with a little, in time they found God provided the addition people, skills and resources as they needed them.
Other chapters in this section deal with the bureaucracy of the church and the danger it can pose to your mission. There is also a good discussion of discipleship and leadership development. Both of these chapters encourage us to buck conventional wisdom and focus on a few. The discipleship chapter leans the work of Greg Ogden, whose materials I have found most useful.
This is a short, but vital section. A church staff can make or break a ministry. One of the common issues this section addresses is what is a pastor to do. The authors argue that pastors are to equip the members of the church to do ministry, multiplying their efforts. I've heard it defined as the difference between an equipping pastor and a chaplain, a chaplain only has so much capacity, a equipping pastor, equips his people to carry out ministry. A vital part of this section is building the right team of people who are on mission together and empowered to make the decisions they need to make. The idea of building a good team is certainly not new and there are many resources out there to help you do this. The chapter titled "The overpaid secretary" however is something that is not pointed out very often. The point of this chapter is that there are too many pastors doing too much secretarial work. It can often be a challenge to squeeze the money out of a church budget to hire additional secretarial labour. As this chapter points out though, if much of this work falls to full-time pastoral staff a church is overpaying for this work.
This is actually the longest section in the book and contains much great advice. Having been a part of churches in the midst of building programs and visiting dozens of church buildings across the country much of this section resonated with my experience. The author of this section spent 30 years as architect designing churches. He admits that as he began looking at it more closely that much of the conventional wisdom he had held and disbursed over the years was actually detrimental to church growth. One of the biggest things in this chapter is how expensive and ineffective it is to build single purpose facilities. I have seen many churches that were overbuilt in one regard, such as seating, and woefully under built in an area such as classroom or foyer space. The author makes the case for building multi-use space that is more flexible and easier to repurpose. A couple of points that I found particularly interesting was 1) consider building a storage shed before you consider any other addition as most churches are wasting space simply storing things and 2) less obvious but consider the value of renovating your office space as functional office space is a key ingredient to a well functioning staff team.
The chapters covering multi-service and multi-venue solutions is very well done. In my opinion this chapter alone is more than worth the price of the book. Of the recommendations made throughout the book, adding a second service is one of the least surprising and is a path many churches have taken. There is a chapter listing the most common mistakes you can make in adding a second service. Among these mistakes is casting it as a temporary solution until a building program is completed and having your services scheduled too close or too far apart. The multi-venue/multi-site discussion is also very helpful and a route the more churches are adopting. Adding an additional venue can be a very cost effective way to increase your capacity as well as appeal to a broader portion of your community by having services in different places and of different styles.
One a side note Ed Stetzer has written some interesting pieces on church building trends that I think resonate with what's laid out in this book. You can browse his posts about church buildings here.
This short, yet vitally important section dealing with the area of finances makes some very good points. The author argues that churches should not, with very few short-term exceptions, take on debt. One of the points they make is that the business reasons to take on debt such as financing revenue generating property or using debt as a tax advantage, don't apply to churches. Further, the risks of debt, such as economic downturn or other drops in revenue, churches are actually at greater risk from. Debt can also limit future growth, particularly if you build it and they don't come. As the authors point out, and I've seen for myself, many churches overbuild and then struggle to pay the mortgage. Even if the church can pay its mortgage, it is funnelling money to pay for debt that could be much better used. Even in my home church, close to 10% of the general offering is going to pay down the building program from over 10 years and we've got about another 10 years to go. The authors recommend getting out of debt and setting yourself up to stay out. Giving to debt isn't as exciting as many other ministries but framed as a step forward it can help move a church towards first, sustainability, then towards growth.
One final note about this section. The author, rightly so, points out that there is often a disconnect between the stewardship teaching offered in the church and our willingness to to not apply those principles corporately. It is this kind of disconnect between teaching and corporate behavior that can undermine what we teach and the difference we hope to see people's lives.
I believe that we as churches must learn to do more with less. We must focus on the mission of the church more than our own comforts or traditions. As one author once put it, "often real change in a church is brought about by a divine encounter with a spreadsheet." I would hope that more churches would heed the advice of a book like this and become more flexible, agile and able to be driven by mission and not held by under utilized resources or chained to the way things have always been done.