The Inefficient Church

automated industrial production line

Seth Godin has an agenda. He wants you to do work that “can’t be automated, mechanized, or outsourced.” In other words, he wants to push you toward work that matters created by people who care.

“Tools can create efficiency,” he writes in his new book The Song of Significance, “but value can only come from … humanity, and the rare form of connection that comes from significance.”

It’s messy work, inefficient work, sometimes slow work, but also important and glorious work: work that slows down enough to actually care.

I’m all for certain kinds of efficiency. I just placed an online order to save a trip to the store. But I’m for the right kind of inefficiency: the inefficiency of caring enough to slow down and treat people like people, to know their names, and to actually care.

I attended a 9Marks Weekender. They let us attend a member meeting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. On the agenda: voting people out of membership. Some had moved out of the city. Some had simply chosen to attend a different church.

The efficient way to handle this agenda item would have been to prepare a motion voting them out of membership en masse. Easy. If you wanted to take the time, you could give a brief explanation outlining some of the reasons for the transfers. Moved, seconded, carried, and on to the next item.

But that’s not what the church did. This church — a large one of around a thousand at the time — worked through each name one by one. They combined individuals in the same family but otherwise dealt with each person individually. This person came to us so many years ago. This is their story. This is where they’re going. This is why. We should pray for them. We should care.

They refused to treat people efficiently. They chose to take the time and treat them like people, not like tasks to be completed as quickly as possible.

I learned a lesson that night. It’s a lesson I remember often in my perpetual hurry and desire to get things done. It’s to slow down and refuse to treat people like widgets. It’s to sometimes — often — choose the inefficient route when it comes to people. Write the handwritten note. Make the visit. Pick up the phone. Slow down. Listen.

A church that treats people like people, not just an aggregate of people or a crowd, is a church that will make a profound impact on the lives of many. And here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how big or small you are. I’ve seen small churches treat people efficiently, and I’ve seen large churches (like Capitol Hill) take the inefficient route. It’s more of a commitment than a factor of size.

By all means, send out the mass email newsletter. Preach to the crowds. Create systems of assimilation and pastoral care. Create ministries that are appropriate to the size of your church.

But then purposely slow down sometimes and choose to become inefficient. Treat people like people. Refuse to automate or mechanize the care of souls. Slow down. It will be good for your people, and it will also be good for your soul.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada