Finding elegant solutions to ministry problems (2 of 2)

Topic / Leadership

Elegant SolutionsLast week I talked about how an elegant solution is a term used to describe the best possible solution to a problem with the least amount of resources. In the church, we have a lot of resources at our disposal to address problems we come across every day.

Last Week’s Example

I also told a story about a high end health club who was trying to solve a problem. When they made expensive shampoo (in the bottles) available as a way of going the extra mile for the clients, the shampoo was so great that many of the clients were throwing the bottles in their gym bags and taking it home.

The health club wanted to completely eliminate the disappearance of shampoo bottles, but they didn’t want to use any resources to solve the problem. In other words they were looking for an elegant solution.

I asked you all to try to solve the problem with an elegant solution.

Your answers were very similar to my answers when I first experienced this problem. Let’s look at some of the responses I’ve experienced over the years.

  • Dispensers in the shower: This has been a common practice in a lot of clubs. Buying a couple dozen dispensers will run the health club a lot of money. It solves the problem, but is not an elegant solution because it would require money up front and maintenance (cleaning, refilling, fixing, replacing, etc.)
  • Little disposable bottles handed out at the desk: Having staff take the normal bottles and divide it into smaller bottles would take a lot of time. Not to mention the cost of bottles. However it would solve the problem.
  • Signs: Signs feel like an easy solution to the problem, but they very rarely actually solve the problem. Leaving a sign that says, “Please don’t steal our shampoo!” or “The shampoo is for your use IN THE CLUB, please don’t take it home,” all have another message attached to them. First, every person who enters the shower, whether they’ve ever taken shampoo home or not, will feel like you are yelling at them, don’t trust them, and are against them. This kind of retributive solution destroys the kind of community a health club would hope to have.

If you read the comments on the last post, you’ll know that Brandon figured out the solution the health club used: they took the lids off the shampoo bottles, thus eliminating theft. Their clients weren’t going to plan ahead to steal, it was impulsive and throwing an open shampoo bottle into their bag would never enter the equation. The club solved the problem without spending a dime, and without using their people’s time.

Applying It To Ministry

When churches and organizations apply solutions that are not elegant, it just makes ministry more complicated. How many solutions in your church are the equivalent of making signs, buying dispensers or the handing out little bottles?

This isn’t always about physical problems, like the way a church gets clean, how snacks are prepared in kids ministry or the way we produce our worship service. This also applies to the way we think about discipleship and what it means to be the church.

I’m not suggesting that a church never spend money. Often the most elegant solution takes volunteer time, and a financial commitment. An elegant solution doesn’t dictate how much time or how much money, only that it solves the problem, and uses the least resources possible.

Solutions that aren’t elegant create complexity that is often a barrier to faithfulness.

QUESTION: What might be some of the implications for your church? What came to mind in your church or organization while you read this?

Posted on May 26, 2011

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