benefits to similarity

So… last post, I noted that I’ve seen some surprising similarities in my trek across the country. Sure, there are plenty of differences, and I’ll write about those sometime. But that post just noted for you something I’ve noticed myself: the things we’ve seen aren’t always as unique (nationwide) as we think they are!

What’s great, though, is the enormous amount of benefit that can be gained by realizing the “rampant similarity” across churches, denominations, campuses, and ministries – even between those that we first assume are radically different.

Benefits to similarity? Here are my thoughts.

(To make them more concrete, I’m going to focus on college ministry. But it’s easy enough to apply any of these points to your field – whether running a church, working at a college, or whatever.)

1. The differences make the difference

First, when much is the same across our field of ministry, it gives us the chance to learn from the parts that actually are different! Can you imagine having every college ministry so radically different, that in every case you were comparing apples to oranges? By comparing apples to apples, differences are more readily apparent. (It’s green! It’s red! There’s a worm in there! Mmmm… crunchier!)

Remember Science Fair Projects? We learned back then that true experiments happen when only one variable changes. In the same way, by recognizing that we may have a lot in common with a ministry across campus – or across the country – collaboration makes more sense.

2. Wider collaboration.

Lots of similarities, then, mean lots of opportunities for collaboration, too. We don’t have to stick with only ministries in our area, our denomination, or our “branch” of college ministry (church-based, campus-based, Christian college, etc.). By noting that we may have a lot in common with those outside these “regions,” our world o’ collaboration is opened up.

When’s the last time you sat down and “interviewed” another local college minister – even someone in a different branch? You might be surprised how many methods, principles, and other wisdom-nuggets you gain.

(And for those of us who are “cutting edge,” a note: It may be that we can still learn from others who, on the surface, seem less “edgy.” Because there are still more similarities – in purpose, philosophy, and even methodology – than we tend to think.)

3. The urge to tweak

Another blessing of realizing our similarities is that it helps us tweak. I really do believe that success is more often the product of smart little ministry “tweaks” than major overhauls. (I wrote about tweaks here.) By recognizing that most ministries we encounter have many similar elements, it should urge us to work hard to be really great at those elements. Sure, you may have worship within your “big group meeting” like everybody else on campus. But why don’t you and your students regularly improve that worship experience with some brilliant lil’ tweaks?

4. The power of the tweak

And when so much is similar, this means it doesn’t take too much to stand out, right? I don’t say this to encourage apathy; it should encourage action! Because we know that even a little bit of “better,” sprinkled on top of the ministry we already have, can get people’s attention. Whether it’s because our group is particularly fun or particularly warm or particularly exciting or particularly loving, students will notice – sometimes subconsciously!

5. The urge to create

At the same time, if we really recognize that so much is similar in our world, there may be something in us that wants to rise up and be different. And when channeled wisely, that “fire in our belly” can catalyze some amazing creativity. Yeah, we’ve probably all seen ministries, churches, etc., that got “creative” without any real, wise purpose behind those activities. But there are also ministries that explore outside the box with brilliance, connecting the needs of their students with some phenomenal new ideas. Think big!

Written from Stanford University

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