Thursday, July 1, 2010

Insanity Redefined

When I began my quest to think differently, Albert Einstein's name kept popping up in things I read. So I started reading a bit more about him. Here are some of my favorite Einstein quotes:

  • "A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be."
  • "Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted."
  • "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
  • "The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits."
  • "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."
  • "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
  • "I want to know God's thoughts; the rest are details."
  • "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
  • "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."

OK, I don't know if he really said the last one, but I like it.

But the Einstein quote that's getting the most circulation right now is his redefinition of insanity. He said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (I think that's a definition of my golf game, but that's better saved for another blog. Then again, maybe not.)

Doing the same thing over and over. That basically describes how we've started churches for years. Here's the formula: get a church planter, gather a group of people, secure funding from various sources, find a place to meet, as you grow hire more staff, eventually buy property, build a building, expand your programming ... wallah ... a church. We've done it the same way for years and years expecting this to help us reach our city, make disciples, transform communities, fulfill the Great Commission.

Seems reasonable, but if you've followed my blog for a while, you know that it's not working as we'd like. (Check "A Parable Inverted" under March.)

Let me be clear, I'm a church man. I believe in the church. I believe it was founded by Christ, ordained by God, and is an effective means of fulfilling the Great Commission. Much of who I am today is the direct result of the ministry of various churches I've been associated with throughout my life. I'm pro church!

Here's the thing -- I'm not sure church the way we've been doing it is working the way it needs to. Just consider one thing -- the number of Christ followers in our city is declining.

In 1990 the population in Houston was 3,731,131. In 2000 it was 4,669,571. According to religious demographers (, only 20% of the population in Houston could be identified as Christians (active followers of Christ as we understand it) leaving 80% that need to be reached with the gospel. Eighty percent of the 2000 population is 3,735,657 or roughly the same number as the total population living in Houston in 1990.

Estimates put the current Houston population at about 5.99 million. If 80% of them need to be reached with the gospel, let's see ... that would be 4,792,000 people need to be reached.

How many churches do we need to reach 4.79 million folks? A medium-sized UBA church in the Houston metro area has about 300 members. Using that as a basis, it would require 15,793 new churches to reach the 4.79 million unreached people in our city.

What would it cost? It takes about $3 million to fund a traditional church -- to buy land (you'd need at least 3 acres of property), build the first unit buildings, pay a staff, funding programming over the time it takes to become a 300 member congregation. Truthfully, $3 million is a conservative estimate.

What would it cost to start and grow 15,793 new churches? Are your ready? $47.9 billion dollars!

How long would it take? At our current rate of growth (110 new churches per decade), it would take 1,452 years.

1,452 years and $47.9 billion ... and that's just to reach our current estimated population.

What am I saying? It's not enough just to start more churches the way we are currently doing it! No matter how hard we try or how many we start, it will never be enough. There're not enough trained leaders, not enough money, not enough available land to do it the way we've done it for many years. We've got to think differently about the kinds of churches we start, where we get our leaders, how we reach those who we are not reaching with our current strategy. This is not to say we need to stop planting traditional churches; the point is that's not the only kind of church we need.

Otherwise, we just doing the same thing over and over expecting different results ... and thanks to Dr. Einstein we know what that is.

So what do we do? Maybe another Einstein quote can help us: "make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Hummm, but I'll save that thought for another time.