The Excellence debate

“Excellence honours God and inspires others”

Have you ever gone into a church for the first time and seen something that made you think “that is a little out of place”?  Have you ever been to a church or attended a ministry event and thought things looked a little sloppy and could have been done better?  Or on the flip side have you ever been to a ministry event that ran like clockwork and you were impressed?  It seems that we all have our own interior benchmark of what we think is “done well” and what we think is “done poorly”.

Yet I often hear from people that the Church needs to pick up its game in terms of the standard of events, presentation and hospitality.  I have also heard from others who say the Church should never be too slick or fancy.  Whilst some churches are pursuing excellence others are deliberately keeping things low budget so as not to look perfect.  So my two questions for today are:

  1. What level of excellence is appropriate in the Church?
  2. Should the Church worry about excellence?

Let me start by giving you a few examples that I have witnessed from the best and worst of excellence in church and ministry:

Worst

  • I attended a young adult camp where the worship band left plates on stage from breakfast.
  • One church had posters for a youth group that looked like they were designed by a kindergarten class.
  • One church foyer had three different style of notice boards, posters about Christmas at Easter time and a pile of lost property that just looked messy.
  • A guest speaker had to rearrange the stage before he could start speaking because the musicians just walked off without clearing the stage.

Best

  • My church has a well-designed event template for all their posters so they look professional even though the ministry leader drops their event details into the template.
  • A ministry team that turned the cheap hall they hired for a youth camp into an inspiring place for worship.
  • A café night at church that had tasty food with enough for everyone to have extra.
  • A celebration night at church that had proper wine glasses and plates for the food (no plastic forks!)

These are just a few things that I have noticed.  But what have you noticed?  I invite you to leave a comment at the end about what you judge to be the best and the worst of excellence in church and ministry.

  1. What is the right level of excellence in the Church?  The right level of excellence is doing the best you can with the best you’ve got.  Excellence doesn’t mean spending more money; you have to have excellent budgeting skills too.  Excellence is about enabling people to encounter and experience God without any barriers in the way.  If the goal is excellence then we have failed.  Excellence is a tool to help you bring people into an encounter with God.
  2. Should the Church worry about excellence?  The Church should do the best it can to make it easier for people to encounter God, make disciples and join in the Mission.  The Church should be a place that inspires people to see the grandness and greatness of God.  People in ministry should offer the same level of service, or higher, that a person would get if they visited a hotel, restaurant, shopping centre or cultural museum.  I think the problem is that we either don’t inspire people or we go back to “traditional” methods that Christians used last century to inspire people but they don’t inspire 21st century people.

Recently I was listening to a podcast with Louie and Shelley Giglio about the level of excellence at their Church, Passion City Church.  They shared their thoughts about the right level of excellence in two ways:

  • When they get ready for Church or events their team doesn’t pray for excellence, they pray that the Holy Spirit might touch people.  For Passion City Church, it is not about achieving excellence but removing barriers.
  • When the Church is excellent in presenting its craft, services/ministry, then it encourages people to go into their jobs and be excellent at their craft.  Louie said “the best evangelism happens when your lifestyle is so inspiring that people ask you what makes you tick.”

So don’t kill yourself or stress your team or break the budget to achieve excellence in your ministry.  But please don’t be sloppy, unprepared or messy as it doesn’t do anyone any favours.  Could you please leave a comment about what you have seen as the best and worst of excellence in church and ministry?

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7 thoughts on “The Excellence debate

  1. PM Hut says:

    Hi Mark,

    How is your post related to project management? It is tagged as “project management” yet I don’t see how it relates (even remotely) to PM.

    • Mark McDonald says:

      It may be misleading to those in the Corporate world but in ministry the level of excellence effects the way a project is managed. If we aim for a high standard of excellence it may mean more resources and time to plan an event. If a church wants to look “low budget” or are to lazy to Putin the effort, then excellence is not a goal of managing the project.

      What are your thoughts as an expect in this field? Should churches raises their standards? Howcouldthechurch improveits project management to raise the level of excellence it delivers?

  2. Trevor Hamaker (@TrevorHamaker) says:

    I think what you’re referring to as excellence can simply be called “thoughtful,” or “attentive,” or “considerate.” There isn’t anything “excellent” or even exceptional about them; they’re actually pretty normal for most people that I know. People who leave the place a mess are actually the exceptional ones – in a negative way.

    A few years ago, Daniel Schantz wrote an article called “Recovering from Excellence” (I would include the link, but it’s broken now). Schantz listed a few ways that the love of excellence creates “subtle dangers”:
    1) Inconsistency – excellence is listed a core value insofar as it pertains to the show being put on for the audience on Sunday morning, but there is no mention of excellence when it comes to ethics, relationships, or spiritual disciplines.

    2) Discouragement – unrealistic goals are the mark of “excellence syndrome” (do more, go faster, etc.), and they create a pace that can’t be sustained. Schantz believes this is why so many young ministers don’t last long in the ministry.

    It just seems to me that “excellence” is really a subjective, ambiguous, and unhelpful concept. It’s similar to telling someone that you want to help them “reach their potential.” What does that potential look like, specifically? It looks very similar to excellence. And what does excellence look like? It’s a mirage. Nobody knows. It’s just MORE than what exists today.

    In the end, excellence leaves everyone is exhausted.
    Ordinary is okay (and consistent and sustainable).

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