You Might Be Wasting Time and Money on Good Ideas

Feel busy? Do you ever have that moment where you look at the next event on your calendar and ask yourself “Why are we even doing this?”

You’re not alone.

If left unchecked, the meetings, events, and ministries we repeat week after week become routine and disconnected with why they started in the first place.

That’s a problem…but it doesn’t only exist with those routine events on your calendar.

It can happen with new ideas too.

You might be wasting time and money on good ideas....png

I was recently at a Pastor’s conference and was having lunch with two attendees I had not met before. They were not on staff at their church (they worked full time in the marketplace) but told me about a preaching development program they were participating in at their church.

I, of course, was intrigued.

I began asking questions to better understand what their participation looked like.

They began to describe some of the incredible communicators that had come to speak to them about the importance of preaching.

Honestly, I was impressed with the caliber of their guest “lecturers”. Whoever was designing this program was inviting some accomplished communicators to speak to the program participants.

But it all fell apart when I started to ask about their end goal.

What was the purpose of the program? They couldn’t really say.

Were they getting any preaching reps? No.

What were they accomplishing in the end? Learning about preaching.

That last one was noble, but problematic .

They knew it was a good idea to teach their people about preaching, but no one really had a sense of the problem they were trying to solve.

And here in lies the problem.

A solution without a problem is a waste of time. 

A solution without a problem is a waste of time.
— @StevenJBarker

We can experience this both in our routines and when implementing new ideas.

  1. Routine Meeting, Events & Ministries

    With any event on your calendar you should be able to answer:

    “What problem is this solving?”

    If it’s a weekly meeting with your team, maybe it’s insuring you stay connected as a team. The agenda should reflect that.

    If it’s a 1:1 with a direct report, maybe it’s calibrating their goals and activities. The questions you ask should reflect that.

    If it’s an annual event for your church, ask yourself: Why did we start this event? Has the goal changed?

  2. New Ideas

    New ideas, quite honestly, are easy to come by. Visit another succeeding church and I’m sure you’ll come away with a list. Listen to a prominent church leader’s leadership podcast and I’m sure you will easily double the length of that list.

    Inspiration is undoubtably important for you as a leader, but where we get ourselves in trouble is when we fail to ask they question:

    “What problem where they trying to solve?"

    And then following that question with, “Are we experiencing that same problem?”

In the end, the most valuable thing you can do is to have a vision for where your church is going in the next two years and then filtering everything through that.

Grab a piece of paper.

At the top, write this sentence:

In the next two years, our church will…

Brainstorm away. You’ve got a vision in there. A place you believe God is leading you. Write it down.

Then write down a list of problems that need to be solved in order to get there.

That list of problems becomes the filter for the types of podcasts you listen to, the questions you ask of leaders at those succeeding churches. It becomes the filter for your meeting schedule and agendas.

And then share the problems with your leaders. You wouldn’t ever be the one to come up with all the best solutions, that’s something that is always better with more minds.

Remember, a solution, a meeting, a ministry, a new idea without a problem may be wasting your time and your church’s finances.

And that’s not something that any of us get excited about.

When Is It Not Important To Fix The Problem?

You don’t have to look very far in a church setting to find someone willing to give you feedback. If you you implemented "Using Feedback Forms to Stay Focused on your Vision" [link] you are starting to get some solid actionable feedback by now. The problem is that if you wrote down everything that needed to be “fixed” the list may feel overwhelming and would most likely be flooded with a myriad of other people’s personal preferences and style choices.

So how do you strategically address only what demands attention?

Background image courtesy of  Marie Coleman

Background image courtesy of Marie Coleman

The trick is to recognize the difference between trends and flash bangs.

A flash bang is designed to temporarily disorient an opponent's senses. It produces a blinding flash of light and an intensely loud "bang" without causing permanent injury. It’s tough to focus on anything else in your environment other than the bang & light that has all your attention.

Feedback from our team and members can have the same effect. Someone personally experienced something that they feel needs to be fixed and they have access to the guy with the authority to fix it. Consequently, a lot of attention is directed towards this flash bang problem. It's hard not too! Lots of light and sound point at the problem, BUT you are not sure if it is something you HAVE TO address. So what do you do?

Focus on fixing trends, not flash bangs.

Focus on fixing trends, not flash bangs.
— Steven J Barker

Flash bang problems feel urgent. They feel like big problems and sometimes they are. They key for any great team leader is to ignore the “blinding light & loud bang” and look at the issue.

  • Is this something that needs to be addressed at some point?
  • Does it violate our values?
  • Does it highlight a problem with our system?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions then the issue is something that needs our attention, BUT it doesn’t need all of our attention right now.

Instead of being solved, it may need to be monitored.

Flash bangs problems aren’t solved, they are monitored.
— Steven J Barker

Trends on the other hand are problems that have shown some track record. We all have bad days, especially in a volunteer organization like the church, there can be times where everything doesn’t go as planned. Mistakes can be made. But when we begin to see something appear in feedback, for more than a couple weeks, we know we’ve got a problem. This problem has become a trend and it’s time to change the trend. It’s time to bring it up with the team and start brainstorming solutions.

You’ve got a limited amount of time to focus on fixing problems. Fix what needs to be fixed and then put all your energy into looking forward (also see What Size Is Your Rear View Mirror?).

Fixing trends solves your growing problems and leaves more time to focus on what's most important. Use your time wisely. 


Disclaimer: This is not an excuse to procrastinate. As soon as you recognize the trend it’s vitally important to act immediately. The longer you don’t address the issue, the harder it becomes to address.

How Copying Ideas Correctly Can Keep You Out Of Trouble

“I saw this cool idea at another church, we should implement it here!” Seems like it’s working for them, why not do it at your church. Well, it could be an unintentional recipe for trouble! The problem with that good idea is that we don’t always know enough about it. Just because it looks cool, or even highly effective doesn’t mean it’s the BEST for you and your team. 

Copying an idea correctly can keep you out of trouble if you answer two very important questions. 

1. Are we trying to solve the same problem? 

Just because an idea looks cool, shiny and even effective doesn’t mean it’s solving the same problem. We can look at an idea and appreciate how clever it is BUT it’s incredibly important to examine what problem they were trying to solve with that solution. Are we having that same problem? Is that problem a priority for us to deal with right now? 

2. Do our values line up with theirs? 

For example, if your organization values simplicity, and “their” organization does not…that absolutely will impact its effectiveness. You'll spend a lot of time tryin to get your team to buy into something that just doesn't feel right, something that just doesn't feel like "us". 

Copying good ideas isn't a good strategy unless you do it correctly. 

Don't look at what Saddleback, Northpoint, or Willow Creek are doing without asking those two questions. It might seem like a great idea, but if it's not solving the same problem you're having, it may be a bad idea in your context. 

In fact, if you've spent all your time copying everyone else's great ideas it won't be long before you can't recognize what problems your organization was actually having. And then you're in real trouble. Then you're stuck with no concrete sense of which way is out. 

The question then becomes, is the problem your facing the core issue or is it just the repercussion of implementing an idea that doesn't fit your organization? 

On the other hand, if you can answer YES to both those questions, you may have just found the perfect solution, from someone who's already proved it can work!