Churches and Line Extension

October 19th, 2011

Churches cannot grow strong using a side-door strategy. Side doors are everything else a church does besides teaching the gospel and helping people grow in their faith. Somehow along the way, church leaders have decided that music concerts, recreation programs, cafeterias, schools, bookstores and even quilting groups were church-worthy pursuits and a proliferation of side-door ministries began to show up in large churches. At the end of the day, none of them, I’m convinced, can grow and keep a church healthy. If the world of marketing, we call this problem "line extension," or the adding of products and services to a brand until it’s diluted and ineffective.

A while back I visited a church that reminded me of the dangers of line extension. What started as an outreach ministry of the church years ago, suddenly began to take a life of its own and became a huge resource and energy drain–so much so that the very thing that drove it into existence, evangelism, is no longer the focus. The "performance" became its own means and end. It now lives to self perpetuate.

I appreciate Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church and its efforts to help churches do what they can do best: reach people for Christ, help them grow in their faith and equip them for ministry. When other things, albeit good things, get added into this mix, the main thing seems to weaken with the passing of time.

Xerox learned the line extension lesson years ago when it decided that since it was so popular in its copier business, it should go into the computer business. Their logic was simple: we are the best-selling copier maker in the world. Since a copier is a machine and so is the computer, the people who bought our copiers will also buy our computers. Wrong. People did not want to buy computers from their copier maker. Several years into the PC venture and several millions of dollars later, Xerox finally got it: people want to buy copiers from us and nothing else. I hope churches are learning that lesson.

I’m not saying that all churches that have multiple ministries and diverse outreach are guilty of line extension. I know and work with some of the most dynamic churches in the world with multiple ministries who reach far and wide and are able to mobilize people and resources to make a difference for the kingdom. I don’t consider that line extension because they are successful reaching people for Christ. The ultimate test for a church lies not in the style of ministry but in the effectiveness it has in transforming lives and community impact.

Difficult financial times, however, force us to look very strategically at our resource allocation. There are a lot of “good” things a church can do, but there’s one main thing it must do: make disciples of all nations. It’s easy for a church to fall victim of line extension in order to do more instead of be more. This is the perfect example of how the "good" is the enemy of the "best."

What’s your take on my line extension theory in churches?

Maurilio Amorim is CEO of The A Group, a media and technology firm in Brentwood, TN.

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