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Several weeks ago I was reading the 37Signals blog, and I came across this thought regarding paths versus hierarchies:

Instead of thinking in terms of hierarchy or up-front structure, I think it’s better to work with paths. A path is a line that goes from a starting point A to an accomplishment B. Each customer who comes to the site doesn’t care about the overall structure. They care about getting from A to B. That’s a path.

Now, here’s the deal. They were writing about web navigation. I believe the same principle applies to how people connect to our churches. We need to apply this principle when people hit our home page, but we also need to think about the paths people take when they walk through our front doors.

  • In hierarchy-thinking, we’re concerned about telling people about our men’s ministry or women’s ministry or small group ministry. We’re in promotions mode. We’re trying to promote programs rather than addressing the question people are asking. The person that comes through the front door just wants to know how can I meet other people?
  • In hierarchy-thinking, we want to tell people about our Bible studies and discipleship classes. The person that comes through the front door just wants to know is Jesus who he says he is and why does that matter to my life?
  • In hierarchy-thinking, we think people want to know our agenda and how we’re set up (leadership, denominations, structure, etc.) to fulfill that agenda. The person who walks through the front door just wants to figure out do I fit here, and, if so, what’s my next step?

OK, I think you get the picture. The discipleship process is more about a journey, a path that we help people navigate, rather than a hierarchy of programs and ministries. Look at church websites and bulletins, though. The church in America is set up to force people into a hierarchy rather than to help people navigate a path.

Here’s the big question: Are we helping people get from point A to point B?

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