Last week we presented at the Velocity church planting conference on "The Four Rules" of vision. The Four Rules are the basis of a book and mini-course we're working on called Vision Can Do Anything. We developed The Four Rules over the last several years working with dozens of ministries, business start-ups, church plants, churches, and established organizations. Over and over again our clients and collaborators were encountering a common problem: complexity was getting in the way of turning vision into reality. Our presentation described a system-savvy paradigm shift that can make the complexity manageable and give vision the traction everyone needs. We were very pleased that many of the church planters who attended — people who naturally lean towards innovation — repeatedly called it "mind popping" and said it was one of the most powerful moments of the conference for them.
Below is an infographic based on just part of that presentation: from what we call Rule One: People over systems (full explanation below). It takes a very practical resource-based approach to explain how Jesus was able to create a movement that grew by 300% a year for 250 years while modern missions struggles to keep pace with population growth and reach 3% a year. While this is just one perspective in an issue with a lot more spiritual, social, and systemic factors, we think it's still pretty enlightening. Take a look for yourself and if you like, download a per-release preview copy of the book and sign up for the mini-course which will begin in less than two weeks (March 11).
Explanation From Vision Can Do Anything, Chapter 3:
Consider this: the typical “giving unit” – usually a household or family – gives $1,240.00 a year in tithes and offerings.i If only 27.5% of this revenue will contribute to discipleship, that means each unit will only contribute $341.00 annually to people development – including the people included in their own giving unit. Compare this figure to other investments in people development. For example, families putting a child through college would laugh at that figure. It doesn't even cover books. In-state public college tuition for 2013-2014 reached $22,826 per year on the average. A year at the average private college is almost exactly twice that.ii For the most part, we believe college is a worthwhile investment for a successful economic life. What should we consider a worthwhile investment in our spiritual and eternal life (Matthew 13:44)?
Effort is another way to think about our investment in discipleship. In economics, effort is generally measured in work-hours, which can, in turn, be converted into dollars or vice-versa. Jesus invested the better part of three years in his ministry. He lived and worked with his disciples pretty much anytime he was awake (though many outside of the Twelve were only seasonally or occasionally present). Just by rough estimate, Jesus invested something like 12,600 hours in developing the people in his movement. This investment would have been spread unequally between Jesus' inner circle, the Twelve, and the larger group (sometimes called the 72). Also, some additional work hours were contributed by the disciples themselves, for example when they were sent to evangelize in Luke 10. Both of these factors would be true in almost any discipleship community. Taking this into account, we can take the total hours Jesus invested and divide it by the 120 disciples present in Acts 1:15. This leads to the estimate that Jesus invested 105 work-hours per disciple. Converted to dollars, this would be roughly $2,535.75 per disciple.iii
The work accomplished by any effort is limited by the efficiency of the work-system. If two laborers of equal ability are given the task of digging a ditch, but one is given a shovel and the other a spoon, you know who will finish first. This is very important when considering effort. Experts who study adult learning have found that not all systems of adult development are equally efficient at the work of growing people. In one such study, Bob Pike found that people retain 20% of what they only hear, 50% of what they both hear and see, and 90% of what they hear, see, and immediately do themselves.iv The methods of people development most used in the typical church are lecture format and would fit in the 20% efficient category. Hipper churches still rely heavily on lecture but put more effort in adding visuals, so they might fit into the 50% efficient category. Jesus' way of growing people – direct discipleship – fits in the 90% category.
The impact of these different efficiencies on the effort required to make a disciple is extreme. If Jesus invested 105 work-hours or $2,535 per disciple, a hip church, at 50% efficiency would need to invest 189 work-hours or $4,564. The typical 20% efficient lecture-format church would need to pour in 473 work-hours or $11,410. As mentioned in our ditch-digging example, work-system efficiency has a great impact on the time it takes to get anything done. If we look at the $4,564 worth of work a hip church needs to invest in a disciple, and we divide this by the $341.22 that each giving unit contributes to discipleship on an annual basis, we get the estimate that it will take a hip church 13.4 years to produce a disciple. In a typical church, it would take 33.4 years! While calculations like these naturally involve a lot of assumptions and estimates, the timelines from the personal stories I've collected during my ministry experience seem to back up these estimates.
It takes two years of pregnancy to make an elephant, but only 20 days to make a mouse. It's not hard to see why one species numbers in the billions and has spread around the entire world while the other is limited to some thousands in a few small corners of the world. When we think the same way about the different systems that create disciples in the Early and contemporary church, some of the factors behind the 300% and 3% growth rates of Christianity become more clear.
i ECCU, 2013.
ii “What's the Price Tag for a College Education?” College Data. 2013. https://www.collegedata.com/cs/content/content_payarticle_tmpl.jhtml?articleId=10064 accessed 02-12-14.
iii I didn't have a source to estimate the dollar value of a current work hour, so I used something close: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly lists the average hourly pay of employees, so I used this, although it does not include the cost of benefits and overhead that might otherwise be included in the value of a work-hour. The hourly figure I used was $24.15/hr published in September 2013. See: "Economic News Release" Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 06, 2013. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t19.htm Accessed 12-16-2013.
iv Christine Edmunds, Kip Lowe, Morna Murray, and Anne Seymour (eds.). "Chapter 3: Ultimate Adult Learning" The Ultimate Educator. National Victim Assistance Academy: Advanced Topic Series, 2002. Pgs. 3-6 - 3-7. https://www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/educator/files/chapter3.pdf Accessed 12-17-2013. Citing Pike's famous 1989 study.
Also, some people have asked how I got my figures. You can see a table of stats, calculations and sources on my wiki. Annual Average Growth percentages were figured by taking the growth percentage for a period and dividing it by the number of years in that period (note some periods in the chart and table are less than 200 years -- the most common interval).