Churches and the Dangers of Line Extension


Churches cannot grow  strong using a side-door strategy. Side doors are everything else a church does besides teaching the gospel and helping  people grow in their faith. Somehow along the way, church leaders have decided that music concerts, recreation programs, cafeterias, schools, bookstores and even quilting groups were church-worthy pursuits and a proliferation of side-door ministries began to show up in large churches. At the end of the day, none of them, I’m convinced, can grow and keep a church healthy. If the world of marketing, we call this problem, line extension, or the adding of products and services to a brand until it’s diluted and ineffective.

A while back I visited a church that reminded me of the dangers of line extension. What started as an outreach ministry of the church years ago, suddenly began to take a life of its own and became a huge resource and energy drain–so much so that the very thing that drove it into existence, evangelism, is no longer the focus. The ‘performance” became its own means and end. It now lives to self perpetuate.

I appreciate Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church and its efforts to help churches do what they can do best: reach people for Christ, help them grow in their faith and equip them for ministry. When other things, albeit good things, get added into this mix, the main thing seems to weaken with the passing of time.

Xerox learned the line extension lesson years ago when it decided that since it was so popular in its copier business, it should go into the computer business. Their logic was simple: we are the best-selling copier maker in the world. Since a copier is a machine and so is the computer, the people who bough our copiers will also buy our computers. Wrong. People did not want to buy computers from their copier maker. Several years into the PC venture and several millions of dollars later, Xerox finally got it: people want to buy copiers from us and nothing else. I hope churches are learning that lesson.

I’m not saying that all churches that have multiple ministries and diverse outreach are guilty of line extension. I know and work with some of the most dynamic churches in the world with multiple ministries who reach far and wide and are able to mobilize people and resources to make a difference for the kingdom. I don’t consider that line extension because they are successful reaching people for Christ.  The ultimate test for a church lies not in the style of ministry but in the effectiveness it has in transforming lives and community impact.

Difficult financial times, however, force us to look very strategically at our resource allocation. There are a lot of “good” things a church can do, but there’s one main thing it must do: make disciples of all nations. It’s easy for a church to fall victim of line extension in order to do more instead of be  more. This is the perfect example of how the “good” is the enemy of the “best.”

What’s your take on my line extension theory in churches? 

  • Josh Jenkins

    I attend a church that has a cafeteria that costs us money and doesn't serve any purpose. People can eat better and cheaper than what we can provide. Maybe one time this was something that you could evangelize with, but for new it's just something that needed to be killed 10 years ago but no one wants to take it down. Josh

  • Sally Epps

    Great post.

    A church not far from my house has an indoor pool. And no, they don’t have a school. Enough said.

  • Great post Maurilio!

  • Right to the point, loved the post!

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  • Anonymous

    Great post Maurilio.

  • Rafael

    Bom dia Murilo! Acompanho há uns 6 meses seu blog e é a primeira vez que comento. Sou brasileiro e pastor de um grupo de jovens, e concordo com seu posicionamento, afinal muitas igrejas tentam de tudo para entreter as pessoas e esquecem de capacitá-las para seguir crescendo com Cristo. Parabéns pelo blog, Abraços,

    • Obrigado pelas suas palavras, Rafel. Os Christaos estao muito preocupado a selos entretidos e pouco menos a serem santificados.

  • I think the problem of line extension in the church is real and something that came about when church society shifted from how we can impact cities and nations to how can the paid staff meet my personal needs. Yes, we need some ministries to help people grow in their faith and even be better stewards of things like their money, but I wonder how much of it is more for our comfort or getting our church “brand” out there than it is really impacting people’s lives for Christ. Great thought and challenge today, Maurilio.

  • Derek Brown

    This is great!  In doing market research, I deal with advertising for line extensions all the time and how many times, the new product cannibalizes the main product the company is known for, and downward shifts in equity occur.  I have never thought about it from this perspective, but you bring to light the potential for these extended programs/resources to cannibalize from Jesus’ calling for the church to simply make disciples.  Good, good stuff.

  • I think your observation is correct. In my experience, however, people have a hard time distinguishing between side-door and front-door ministries. They become convinced that the Zumba class and the soccer league and the child care are central to the mission–even when they are not producing. 

    Back in the day, we used to call that kind of thing a Sacred Cow.

  • Good post. Getting back to a focused strategy allows the church staff to also focus and become much better at being the church.

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