The 1% difference, and the idea I’m using this week.

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04/03/2014 by Chris Green

1percent-aqua-on-grayI’m not a natural cyclist.  I see the brave ones in London face-off with the buses, and I am in awe of their daring, but also scared by their recklessness.

And I don’t look good in Lycra.

But, I think we can usefully learn from the British cycling team, and the approach to training which they have adopted.  It is an approach that led to stunning success at the Olympics, and a score of other races as well.

The basic point is that they spotted that all the international teams were doing roughly the same thing to produce athletes at the same level: diet, exercise, technology – they were all basically interchangeable  And there didn’t seem to be a quantum leap that would enable one team to pull to an easy victory.

dave-brailsford_2282593bSo instead, the Brits focussed on tiny things that would make a barely perceptible difference – but doing loads of them. David Brailsford, their coach, called it the “aggregation of marginal gains,” getting them to look for “the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do.”

You can read about David Brailsford and Team Sky here.

Most famously, they spotted that when the cyclists were on tour they slept more badly than at home.  Adrenaline, the atmosphere – you can imagine.  But they spotted that that those that brought their own pillows from home slept better than those that used the hotel’s.  It was a tiny difference, but it helped them to pull ahead a tiny amount.

I’m nicking that idea straight off the page.  If you’re on a Christian conference, what’s the first thing you’re asked in the morning?  How you slept.  And the standard reply from me is, “Well,not bad. But I never sleep well away from home.”  It’s true, and I need to find a way round it, because if I’m the speaker I need those hours of sleep.  The people who have invited me deserve that.  So this week, as I head to another conference (not speaking), I’m going to pack my pillow to see if it helps.

But the underlying philosophy is important too.

The web can be a depressing place for pastors to surf.  The focus is always on the well-known pastors, the big churches, the success stories.  The true narrative, which is that the average church size in both the US and the UK is around 75 gets lost, and we imagine that we are the only failures in a world of Matt Chandlers.

So we dream, if we’re dreamers, of the big fix that will get us there: the great wave of the Spirit, or the keynote conference that turns our church around.  Or we deny, if we’re deniers, that anything other than the status quo is possible, because everything requires so much effort.

Lots of things do require lots of effort.  But what if we made a list of ten tiny things we could improve just 1% this coming Sunday over last week.

For instance:

  • I’d like the reader to give a sentence or two of context before she starts with the passage.  I can draft that in seconds and email it off.
  • If the book we’re pushing for Lent sells at £5 rather than £4.99, we don’t have to worry about change, and we don’t have to man the table.
  • We can change the time we pray before the service so we can bring things to God properly AND still meet and greet as people arrive.


Have a go – see if you can find ten tiny items to improve by a small amount this week, and join them to a growing list at the bottom of this page.

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