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The Law of Diminishing Returns

jogging

My youngest son, Benjamin, is a personal trainer and also trains people in CrossFit. Benjamin has been encouraging me to mix up my exercise schedule and not to do the same thing all the time. I sent him a text message and asked if in his training and education did they ever mention or talk about the law of diminishing returns? His response was, “Yes, sir. Kind of like when a person is sedentary and they start running a 12 minute mile three times a week. Initially they will see results but if they continue doing the same thing they will eventually quit seeing progress because you adapt.”

His response made me laugh because he knows I usually run 3-5 miles a day 3-5 times a week and pretty much at the same pace. He went on to say, “They will either have to run farther or faster to keep seeing results.” I texted him back, “Thanks! That helps me! You had to pick running, didn’t you?” He replied, “You have to know your audience!” This universal general law states the reality that the more you do the same thing over and over the less you will get the benefits from it. While it primarily has been associated with economics it can apply to several different areas of our lives.

When a person diets they can initially see incredible results the first week in losing up to ten pounds. Then the second and third weeks they may still lose 1-3 pounds but by week four they lose nothing. They are following the same diet faithfully and did not cheat even once. With the results beginning to diminish this is where they may choose to give up on the diet figuring it just isn’t worth the sacrifices they are making. Your body adapts and teaches itself to live on less and can even go into a starvation mode where it burns more muscle than fat, which is not good.

Churches need to make sure that they are not guilty of ignoring the law of diminishing returns. There are many areas where if a church is not careful it can put a lot of energy and effort into ministries, programs, and methods that continue to become less and less effective. Here are a couple of things to consider:

first, traditions can produce diminishing returns! There is nothing inherently wrong with traditions but unfortunately they can begin to take precedence over the Word of God. The mantra can be heard loud and clear, “We have always done it that way!” Traditions can become counterproductive when all they do is perpetuate the past in a way that places God’s will as secondary. There are many tools and aides available to us today that were not available to us just 10 years ago.

One example would be power point with video projectors and screens. While some may still not see their usefulness, we must remember that the worst way for learning to occur is by only hearing it but, when we also see it, we are much more likely to remember it. An old proverb says, “If I hear it I will forget it. If I see it I will remember it. If I do it then it will transform my life.” There are many new innovations and creative ideas that could help us in spreading the gospel more effectively and isn’t that the main objective anyway?

Second, buildings can produce diminishing returns! Okay, let me say it loud and clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with traditions and there is nothing inherently wrong with buildings! For years, many have said that the church is not brick and mortar but it seems like we really don’t believe it by where we put all of our time, effort, and money for a space used 2-3 times a week. The goal is not to build buildings but to build people and equip them to become more and more like Christ! Helping people who are non-believers to become new believers, maturing believers, mature believers, and then reproducing believers.

We need to change what we measure. Instead of measuring seating capacity we need to measure sending capacity. The church’s mission is to have an intentional spiritual growth process that moves people from being attenders to an army on assignment for their King. You don’t judge an army’s effectiveness by how well they do in the mess hall but, rather, how they do on the front lines of battle. Rick Warren says it well, “There is no biblical correlation between the size of a church and the strength of a church.

Third, music can produce diminishing returns! If you are looking for me to run down hymns or to promote a particular style you will be disappointed. If my personal musical preferences were followed the church services would sound way too much like the Beach Boys. The reality is that no one’s personal preferences should stand in the way of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go to church in Africa, Pakistan, or with Romanian Gypsies, and the music sounds distinctively different.

Here are a couple of things I would ask you to consider. Do songs have to be 100-200 years old to qualify as good Christian music? Are we not seeing good Christian songs being written today by very gifted and spiritual people? How do we determine what is “good” Christian music? Oh, let me answer this last one by saying that what “I” or “you” usually like determines it. Actually, you are hard pressed to find a description of “Christian” music in the scriptures but there are certainly Christian scriptural words!

Healthy churches are constantly evaluating not only what they do but also why they do it! Maybe it is time to take an honest look at things that worked great in the past but are not working anymore. Maybe now is a good time to ask what is keeping your church from being the church Christ wants it to be.