The Reality Principle


“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds;” Proverbs 27:23 (NIV)

People ask me from time to time, “how many conferences do you do a year?” I have done some quick math about this—so many conferences a month, so many months, so many down months, etc.—and came up with 60 or 70 conferences a year. I have told quite a few people this and really thought it was true.

I did the hard math recently and actually counted the number of conferences for last year. It was 40. This year I have done or scheduled 55. I walked smack dab into the reality principle.

Preachers are famous for their estimations. “Ministerially speaking” is a euphemism for, “fudging up; way up.”

The thing is, reality is what reality is. Pretending doesn’t change anything.

I think I am capable of doing 60 or 70 conferences a year, maybe more. But, if I think I am already doing 60 or 70 a year, then I won’t work to try to increase that. Failing to follow the reality principle leads to bad decision making and a failure to reach our God-given potential.

Another place I have been looking at the reality principle in my life relates to video. I have been dreaming for some time now about the idea of transitioning from America’s Sunday School Trainer to America’s Sunday School Teacher–by way of video. I spent a pile of money, and a lot of time, trying to develop video based interactive Sunday School curriculum. I actually think I produced a halfway decent product. In fact, I honestly think these videos are better than the bottom third of our Sunday School teachers. But, that doesn’t matter, because reality is, I can’t sell them. At least, I can't sell enough of them to justify the kind of time and money I have put into it.

I constantly have to balance my desire to get a message out and double the "capital C" Church in the next twenty years with my responsibility to feed my kids. Truth is, doing the ministry is a lot more interesting to me, but I have these hungry kids. (Is anyone else amazed at how much a 17-year old boy actually eats?)

Well, these two doses of reality have caused a change of direction for me. I am going to quit producing curriculum videos and concentrate on filling my calendar. I hope to do as many meetings in the last half of this year as I did all last year. I want to write one new book a year that helps teachers do a better job, as well as produce one (and only one) new video series. I have set the goal of 80 conferences a year and am making plans to reach that goal. It is an expression of reaching toward the mark for me. Reality thinking helped me to clarify these goals.

(If you are worried about me spending time with my kids as well as feeding them, you might consider that when I am home, I don’t really have a day job. I have some things I piddle with–like I have a couple of new books I am working on–but I get to spend a lot of time with my kids when I am home.)

Enough about me; let’s talk about you for a while.

In order to grow a double you have to do four things:

  • Attract visitors (The Magnet Factor) Goal: 3%
  • Get them to stick around (The Velcro Factor) Goal: 33%
  • Turn them into saints (The Discipleship Factor)
  • Turn them into workers and leaders (The Leadership Factor)

Most churches think that the great need of the hour is to attract more visitors. I knew one church that had 100 visitors a week and thought they needed more in order to grow. Reality is, most churches have plenty of visitors. Reality is, the difference between doubling churches and non-doubling churches is not so much around the Magnet Factor as the Velcro Factor. My research indicates that doubling churches and non-doubling churches both have about 5% Magnet Factor. To be fair, there is a slight difference; doubling churches have slightly more than 5%, while non-doubling churches have slightly less. But, the difference is pretty subtle. The big difference between doubling churches and non-doubling churches does not have so much to do with the Magnet Factor as the Velcro Factor. Two important points:

  • This varies widely. Although it is true on average that most churches have plenty of visitors, there are plenty of churches that don’t. Do the math; that is what the reality principle is all about. You only need 3% Magnet Factor to double every five years or less, but you do need 3%. I was in a church once that had a 75% Velcro factor but was still barely growing. Why? 75% of not very much is not very much.
  • The strategies used to address the Velcro Factor are completely different from those used to address the Magnet Factor. Examples of strategies used to address the Magnet Factor include billboards, direct mail and evangelism training. Examples of strategies used to address the Velcro Factor include Giving Friday Nights to Jesus and Inviting every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. The Double Your Class system works best in a context where there is an adequate Magnet Factor.

I want to invite you to employ the Reality Principle in getting your class doubling every two years or less. Are you doing every part of this formula?

Teach a halfway decent lesson each and every week; nothing less will do.
Invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month
Give Friday nights to Jesus. “Friday Nights” is a metaphor for an informal time of Diet Coke, coffee cake and table games.
Encourage the whole group to get involved in this ministry.
Reproduce your group.

We can take America for God by giving the ministry to laymen who are using their gifts to grow their groups to double their classes every two years or less. We can do it, but we are going to have to look reality in the face to pull it off.