The Two Time Slot Rule

As we get ready to launch our next small group year, I’m also confronted with the reality that many people are too busy to think. We live in a multi-tasking world, where it’s easy for families to run in multiple directions. Juggling commitments is an unfortunate reality for most modern families.

Larry Osborne, the author of Sticky Church, faced the same problems in the early years of his ministry, and landed on what he calls “The Two Time Slot Rule.” Here’s his description from Sticky Church:

As I travel across the nation, speaking to leaders from various denominational, theological, and socioeconomic backgrounds, I’ve found they all say the same thing. As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in only two time slots a week. No matter what that third meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.

Certainly, there are exceptions. Every church has some ministry animals who show up whenever the doors are open or there’s an opportunity to serve. In addition, those who serve in key lay leadership positions often give more than a couple of time slots. But the pattern seems to hold true for most people. It’s two time slots, with an occasional extra meeting or special event thrown in.

At North Coast we’ve chosen to adjust our ministry to this reality. Our entire church and our sermon-based small groups are designed to work within the two-time-slot paradigm.

It might not be the ideal, but it’s what we have to work with. And since we believe so strongly that everyone (not just those with time on their hands) needs to have significant relationships to become spiritually healthy and mature, we’ve adapted our programs and ministry to fit within the time slots people will give us.

While some may see this as a spiritual compromise, I see it as following in the footsteps and spirit of the apostle Paul. If I were a missionary in South America, I wouldn’t insist on starting every worship service on time—even if I thought that being on time is an important sign of respect for God and a symbol of his priority in our life. Why? Because if I did, I’d be the only one there.

Same goes for designing a ministry that expects people to give more time than they are willing or able to give. I can do it. But nobody will show up. [Larry W. Osborne, Sticky Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).]

The Reality We Live With

There are those who would argue that this is not spiritual leadership, but an example of a Pragmatism Driven Church. I want to be sensitive to that charge, but I also nod in agreement with Larry Osborne when he states that we can “expect people to give more time than they are willing or able to give, but nobody will show up.” Pragmatic or not, that is reality in our day and age.

This is a hard pill for someone like me to swallow. I’ve lived my life as a “ministry animal” as Osborne calls it—someone who is at the church whenever the doors are open. This has been my way of life since childhood. We were one of a handful of families who made it to church during the worst snow storm or on those Sunday evenings when Christmas day landed on a Sunday and we still had our Sunday evening service.

In some ways, it’s more difficult for a mid-sized church than for a large church. Large churches can offer a buffet line of ministry opportunities, and because there are thousands of people to draw from, each ministry can attract a small percentage and still have a healthy attendance.

In a mid-sized church, the small percentage who will participate in the extras equals a small group of people. While a large church may have 50-60 who show up for a men’s group or women’s group or Bible study, a mid-sized church may have 5-6 people. Considering that as much as 20 percent of a group may be absent any given week, this leaves you with a group that can be unsustainable.

The Dilemma

Here’s the dilemma we face–do we accept the “Two Time Slot Rule” and lead our church accordingly, or do we try and buck the trend towards over commitment that rules our culture? If I accept the first option–live by the “Two Time Slot Rule”–then this dramatically impacts how I plan and program for ministry. If I buck the trend, then I need to learn to be content with the few (most of whom will be 50 years and older) who participate in church beyond a worship service and a small group.

How do you respond to the “Two Time Slot Rule?” Do you plan accordingly or do you try to overcome this increasingly common barrier?

    Chris Eller is a Christ Follower, Husband, Father, Pastor, Geek, Writer, Photographer, and Church Technology Consultant.