Malcolm Gladwell, Soccer, and the Weakest [Church]

moneyIn Malcolm Gladwell ‘s recent podcast, he shared the story of Hank Rowan. Rowan was a philanthropist in the 1990’s who gave a $100 million donation to a small college in New Jersey. He gave this to a small, public school rather than his alma mater (MIT) or any other prestigious university. Rowan became a trendsetter with his gift, but not in the way one might imagine. Since then, other philanthropists have given gifts of $100 million or more to other schools. However, the majority of those donations went to wealthy, prestigious, private universities. Not small, struggling, public schools.

Gladwell highlights the difference between Rowan and other donors, such as Phil Knight of Nike Corporation. For many donors in the West, philanthropy is Superstar driven or strong link driven. In other words, they desire to give their money to the superstar universities, even though these schools already have multiple donors, because they believe that investing in the biggest and brightest is the best way to spend their money.

Rowan, however, is a weak link driven philanthropist. He believes that the secondary education system will benefit when we give to the weaker schools and build them up. In other words, when the weak link becomes stronger then all the schools become stronger.

the-ball-stadion-football-the-pitch-39562Gladwell uses the idea of soccer to make his point. In soccer, a team is only as strong as its weakest player. Since a weak player is more likely to miss a goal or make a mistake, the weakest player is the one most likely to cost them the game. Therefore, if the team wants to improve their winning average, they need to improve their weakest player, not their best player.

The idea of weakest link strategy vs. strong link strategy made me stop to think about how we function as local church bodies and denominations. In particular, the evangelical church in the West tends to favor the strong link strategy. We spend our time, money, and people resources on strengthening the superstar players.

I have seen this most often with “mature” Christians. They come to a place in their discipleship where they are “no longer being fed spiritually”. So they leave the small church to seek out the superstar players. They take their resources and give them away to the biggest and best; the large or even mega church.

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Now, if you are a new Christian…if you are still learning this whole follow Jesus thing, then I am not speaking to you. But if you can quote scripture like there’s no tomorrow and if you know who your pastor is talking about when they mention the name “Melchizedek”, then yes I am talking to you.

There are many small churches much like that small college that need your resources. They need you to teach a bible study, rock a baby, and help serve hot dogs at the next event. They need you to put your time in at the sound booth, hand out bulletins, and plan the next teen event. They need your resources.

As Believers, we love to throw around the bible verse that it is better to give than receive. But then we plant ourselves in a large church with lots of resources and hand our kids over to have someone else take care of them. When all the time there is a small church in your neighborhood struggling. They are not struggling because they are irrelevant or unwilling to change and grow. I know there are many out there in this category. But there are just as many who are reaching hurting, broken families. Yet they are slowly drying up in resources. Time, money, people….resources.

What would happen to the Church (with a big ‘C’), the Body of Christ, if we strengthened the weaker church? What would happen if we invested in the small, struggling church who is actually making a difference, but simply running on fumes? What would happen to the mission, the Great Commission, if we strengthened our weak link? Is it possible that we would ALL become stronger? Is it possible that we would ALL reach higher? Reach more broken, hurting people? What would happen if the “mature” Christians would give and not only receive?

I have this idea that in those small, weak “links” we would find people who God could use to change the world. I think if we invested in these weak links, we would be stronger together. Perhaps you are sitting in a larger church or mega church now and God is calling you to give more than you receive. Could it be that you are asleep in a recliner? Could it be time to wake up and answer the call of God? Could it be time?


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