My mother recently reminded me that when I landed my first full-time job, I declared I was excited to have more money for two things: (1) athletic shoes and (2) more frequent haircuts. I like shoes, and I was pretty excited this summer to customize two pairs of converse Chuck Taylors—one for me and one for Kaye (Kaye’s pair is pictured here).
When I received mine in the mail, I wondered if I should have chosen gray or blue for the tongue instead of brown. I was not fully satisfied with my choice, despite the fact I spent over an hour one night on the computer designing my very own shoe.
My shoes made me think of Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice, which advocates that too many choices lead to decision paralysis and regret. Decision paralysis because we are overwhelmed with all the options. And regret because if we make it through the paralysis, we are never confident we made the right choice.
My shoes also made me think of churches and the reality that many churches offer way too many programs for people. If Schwartz is right, here are two pitfalls of having too many programs in your church:
In a talk at the well-known TED conference, Schwartz gave an illustration using Vanguard, a financial services company which conducts voluntary retirement programs at companies for more than 1 million employees. These voluntary retirement programs include matching funds from employers, meaning they are deeply beneficial and advantageous to the employee. According to Schwartz, participation in the retirement program drops 2 percent for every 10 options presented to employees. If 50 fund options are presented, participation drops 10 percent. The employees are overwhelmed by the number of options, walk away from free matching money, and go home thinking they will sign up another day. The plethora of choices leads to “decision paralysis.”
In church ministry, a plethora of programs makes the next step unclear. In many churches, the number of things that are presented as “next steps” or “opportunities for involvement” are too many and lead to paralysis. At many churches, it is hard to keep up with the barrage of announcements unloaded in a 3-4 minute time frame. As the number of things to do increases, the likelihood that people will decide to do any of them decreases.
A plethora of programs raises the busyness in a church but lowers confidence in what is offered. If everything is most important, nothing really is. Thus, when people go to X, they likely wonder if they should have gone to Y.
I love my new shoes. But there is a downside of too many choices. In church ministry, the downside is even greater. All the activity can pull people away from relationships, away from family, away from living on mission in the world around them. Activity does not equate to transformation. In fact, it can often mask the lack of it.