Last year we hosted a Christmas Experience – we cleared the church building, built Bethlehem inside it, added some actors and live animals (yes, I asked that question too), and hosted around 500 school children though it, as a way of ensuring that they heard the Christmas story, clearly and without the adverts.
It was work, but huge fun.
And when we started to plan this Christmas, way back when the spring blossom was still fresh, the subject came up of what we do next time.
Now like any bunch of people who want to see more people become Christians, we can get quite excited given a blank piece of paper.
“What shall we do next time?’, someone asks, and suddenly the air is full of “Why don’t we…”, and “We could…”, and “And then…”
And basically what happens, time after time, is that we decide to do only what went well last time – but do more of it. So this year we’re just doing the Christmas Experience, just like last year. No changes. But with a bigger set. And running for longer. And involving 1000 children.
We even have a code name for the bad habit: “Sprinkles.” It comes from when you want just a plain, simple vanilla ice cream. Nothing fancy. “Oh – but could you add some sprinkles?” Just the plain and simple vanilla- plus something extra at the last minute. It’s reached the useful point that in a meeting all we have to do is say the word “Sprinkles”, and everyone realises the trap we are about to walk into.
Like anyone, I like growth and expansion. I like more. I like sprinkles.But they come at a cost.
So I also admire the people who ask what went well last time, but that we’re not going to do it again. Who cut back on the programme so that we can sustain ourselves long-term. Who have cool self-discipline.
No sprinkles for me.
One of my heroes in the area of business leadership is Jim Collins. He’s only written a handful of books, and they are all gold dust. His slimmest is called ‘How the Mighty Fail” and it is a study in the collapse of once-great companies.
Among the early signs of imminent collapse he describes is “The Undisciplined Pursuit of More”, meaning that an organisation races ahead of itself, losing its tight focus on what it does brilliantly, and so acquires, diversifies and blands out to the point where it no longer knows what it is there for apart from making more money (are you listening, 1 Infinite Loop?).
The alternative to Sprinkles is to think in terms of pruning – what do we need to cut back on, not because it is dead or diseased, but because it is drawing lifeblood from our primary task, into something that dazzles us spectacularly, but over time causes the main task for shrivel.
We are running a larger, longer Christmas Experience this year. It’s too good an opportunity to miss, and it is on our core mission. But there had to be other ideas which we pruned to allow it to happen well.
What are you not doing again, even though it went well?
Think it through
Do you have a temptation to add Sprinkles? When did you last stop doing something really good so that something even better can be allowed to grow?