Imagine that half the cars in the US get 10 miles per gallon. And half get 40 miles per gallon. Further stipulate that all cars are driven the same number of miles per year.
Now, you get one wish. You can give every low-mileage car a new set of spark plugs that will increase fuel efficiency by 5 mpg, up to 15. Or you can replace every 40 mpg car with a car that gets 75 mpg, an increase of 35 miles for every gallon driven.
Which is better?
So, what would you choose? One might be inclined to increase the efficiency of the vehicles with the best fuel economy, but you’d be wrong. Godin answers:
It turns out that the 5 mpg increase is far better for overall mileage than the 35 mpg increase, even though it’s smaller both as a percentage and absolutely. That’s because the 10 mpg hogs use up so much gas. They’re the low-hanging fruit, not just easy to fix, but worth fixing.
This seems counter intuitive, but it adds up. All things being equal (fleet and miles driven), the overall percentage of fuel which would be conserved on the lower end would easily outweigh the decrease in fuel consumption by the most efficient vehicles.
You can read the rest of Godin’s post here. This got me thinking: Jesus spoke of fruit in John 15, among other places. Thinking specifically of his discussion of the vine and the branches in John 15, Jesus states:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” -John 15:1-2
As far as churches go, many leaders think of productive, growing, and dynamic ministries as prime targets for investigation, excitement, and hope. People ask, “What is __________ ministry doing to increase in effectiveness, reach their community, and grow their church, and can it be replicated?” People want to be like the big boys (or considering that the Church is portrayed as the bride of Christ, the big girls (hottest babes?)).
Within the context of some of these booming churches, the focus is on evangelization and church growth, continuing much of the excellent work that has already begun so that the ceiling can continue to be raised. In order to continue this type of growth, these church ministries (and their congregants) demand excellence in staff hiring practices, desiring that the church only bring on the best quality staff people to lead that ministry, which results from time to time in large churches hiring the most capable people away from other churches. Ministries must be highly effective, with effectiveness usually measured by number of participants. When a ministry does take off, resources are placed behind that particular effort in order to push the envelope and continue to raise the ceiling. Overall, I’m not saying that this growth at the top is bad. It may just cause us to forget about the low-hanging fruit.
Godin’s post left me wondering–what is the low-hanging fruit in a denominational context, or in a local church context? I’m not thinking about ministries and churches in the process of dying–I’m thinking of church ministries that are producing some fruit and with a little help, encouragement, and additional resources, might come to produce a little bit more. I’m thinking of leaders who are tired and exhausted, yet continue to work hard, and could benefit greatly if someone would praise them and celebrate the work they are doing. Perhaps a little encouragement, a little investment in the life of someone leading a smaller ministry might go a long way and have great overall benefits for the Kingdom of God.
Of course, my thesis here supposes that we can identify churches and ministries that would fit the category of producing “low-hanging fruit,” which I concede would be difficult, if not impossible. Measuring these things would have to go beyond numbers, looking at other markers of spiritual health. At the very least, this idea serves as a reminder to encourage my colleagues and my friends in ministry, to listen to their stories from their church contexts (both large and small), and to celebrate the good work that God might be doing through their life.