One of the tensions I experience often is whether ministry initiatives should be broad and shallow, involving lots of people at a nominal level of depth, or narrow and deep, involving fewer people at a much greater depth. One thing is for sure, to expect things to be broad and deep, will only disappoint you.
The second tension comes with the assumption that one can only do one or the other, broad and shallow or narrow and deep. I would like to have you see these as complementary in nature, not adversarial. I strive to do both, with different goals, with different expectations, sometimes with the same groups.
For instance, with the minor league baseball team I serve I do both approaches to ministry with the same club in the same week.
· Broad and shallow – Baseball Chapel on Sunday after batting practice. Everyone may attend, no preparation is necessary from anyone except me. It takes about fifteen minutes from start to finish. It’s very shallow in depth as I am speaking with a wide range of spiritual maturity. Players and coaches attend, only on Sunday home games. That’s usually around eight meetings per season (96 games).
· Narrow and deep – Bible study after batting practice on a weekday afternoon. I give each interested player a devotional book and a New Testament (Spanish / English), with instructions that we’ll read the devotion assigned to the day of the year and the chapter of Proverbs corresponding to the day of the month. We all do the reading and then once during each home stand, we discuss our insights from the daily readings. Occasionally I’ll meet one on one over breakfast with a coach, a team captain, or have a couple of players to our home for dinner. I even played a round of golf with a couple of players on an off day afternoon.
With our collegiate FCA group, we do both, broad and shallow as well as narrow and deep.
· Broad and shallow – We hold occasional large group meetings in an auditorium in the athletic department. They are designed to draw in people who are less comfortable in a more intimate atmosphere, but may find a large group more inviting. It includes some music, video, prepared talks, and time to meet people, all in sixty minutes. Broad and shallow, purposefully.
· Narrow and deep – We also hold smaller group meetings in my home. They are often for student-athletes of any sport, sometimes for a specific team, and occasionally even one on one meetings with a student-athlete who desires some personal mentoring. Much narrower and much deeper.
The big idea to keep in mind in this tension is to understand the nature of your event and to program wisely. Don’t set yourself up for failure by expecting a large group with minimal commitment to dive into a deep discussion requiring a lot of preparation. If the group seems broad and deep, speak their language, start where they are, make it convenient, and work to move them forward to greater depth and commitment. In that broad and shallow group may be a few who desire something with greater depth. Help them start another group. If your aim is to provide a study with depth, requiring study away from the meeting, at an inconvenient hour or location, you can’t be upset if the attendance numbers are low. You have programmed for narrow and deep, the group will be narrow and deep.
One size does not fit all. Listen clearly to your group and they’ll likely reveal their depth and breadth by their choices of location, time of day, subject matter, and frequency of meeting. Move ahead with their desires, challenging them to grow in relationship and commitment. Watch for the outliers in the group and serve their interests. You’ll soon perceive how to complement the broad and shallow with the narrow and deep.