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Did you know that Starbucks has provided clean water to Africa, organized local service projects, and even helped celebrate Christmas? For the next 5 minutes, let’s set aside the recent #redcup controversy and learn from an organization that engages many of the same causes as your church.

When Howard Schultz returned as CEO of Starbucks in 2008, he found a company that had outgrown its success. Rapid expansion with a desire to reach the masses led to a company devoid of its “soul.” Reflecting on this, Schultz wrote:

“Success is not sustainable if it’s defined by how big you become. Large numbers that once captivated me…are not what matter. The only number that matters is ‘one.’ One cup. One customer. One partner. One experience at a time. We had to get back to what mattered most.” (Onward, 156)

What does this have to do with your church?

It’s easier than ever for church leaders to become consumed by growth. The rise of the megachurch, social media comparison, and fastest growing churches lists make it feel like growth is the goal. Worse, it’s easy to disguise our obsession with “bigger” as mission-mindedness. After all, getting bigger means more people meeting Jesus and growing spiritually. Right?

Is it possible that our passion for reaching more people actually gets in the way of our ability to make a difference in their lives?

There’s a big difference between getting 1,000 people in your church and spiritually leading 1,000 individuals.

Here’s what Schultz had to say about leading large crowds: “A store manager’s job is not to oversee millions of customer transactions a week, but one transaction millions of times a week.” (Onward, 201)

As your church experiences larger crowds around Christmas and the New Year, are your leaders prepared to handle more experiences of “one?” Here are a few ways to make it personal:

  1. Ensure that personal connections aren’t overtaken by systems.

As you grow, it is natural to begin using systems to keep track of people. But those systems cannot replace personal connections. Build a volunteer team focused on following up with phone calls. Ask ushers to take ownership of the people who sit in their sections. Create a clear space in the building where any question can be answered. In essence, look for every opportunity to personally connect with each “one.”

  1. Train staff and volunteers on how to think, not what to do and say.

As a church team grows, managers try to standardize as much as possible. Staff and volunteers are taught specific steps to follow, phrases to say, and responses to situations. I’ve even seen church “leaders” dictate an exact phrase for answering the phone! All of this is focused on creating a consistent experience.

Consistent experiences are the antithesis to personal experiences. If everyone is treated the same, no one is treated as an individual. Instead of training people on what to do and say (behaviors), train them on how to think (values). If you get everyone valuing the right priorities, they’ll create the best personal experience for each “one.”

  1. Focus on mission-driven metrics not mass-driven metrics.

In times of growth, it’s easy to become enamored by large attendance numbers. Yet getting people to show up is hardly anyone’s mission. Stay focused on the numbers that evidence true life change. Baptisms, small groups, volunteering, and giving are among the vital signs to keep in front of your team every week. They ensure that each “one” is truly being led spiritually.

Leading a crowd spiritually is certainly a challenge. After all, there are plenty of shortcuts to communicate with people more efficiently. But if you truly desire to connect with each person and lead them closer to Jesus, start looking for ways to do so “one” at a time.

kartografia via Compfight cc

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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