Pastor Steven Furtick shared on his blog the following post (edited here), which a friend of mine was kind enough to share with me and some others:
While reading I recently encountered an idea called the principle of compound effect. The basic concept is that small but consistent habits and incremental changes add up to pay big dividends over time.
For example, putting a dollar a day into a mutual fund might not seem like a big investment. But over time, the accumulated deposits and their interest will add up to something exponentially greater than the initial investment itself…
I’ve recently challenged my staff to begin improving their areas of responsibility by just one percent every day. To be one percent better in their communication. Their efficiency. Their performance. And to then in turn challenge the people they lead to do the same.
One percent is manageable, identifiable, and attainable. And it’s a daily increase and deposit that over time will take our church to an exponentially greater level than the work we’re putting in to get there. And without us ever losing a step and having to make up ground.
In your own life, imagine what would happen if you committed to improving yourself by one percent a day every day for the next year. If you committed to improving your parenting abilities. Or the way you love and honor your spouse. Or your eating habits. Or your spiritual disciplines.
Nothing would be drastically different initially. But a year from now you would discover that you would be a completely new person.
And that’s because it’s often the smallest things done consistently that have the greatest potential to change everything.
Now, initially I just read and thought, “Okay.” But the more I read it, the more saddened I am by it. At one time, I would have lapped this up like all the other performance-driven, leadership/vision, business dynamics stuff I read in my early days in a corporate environment. I cut my teeth on this stuff. But after spending the last three months in Hebrews looking at faith, and in that same time reading a half dozen books on discipleship and Christian living, I think Furtick has missed the point.
…imagine what would happen if you committed to improving yourself by one percent a day every day for the next year. Improving your parenting abilities: What does one percent improvement in parenting abilities look like? One percent fewer tantrums? One percent fewer lies in a day? One percent fewer screams? One percent more times apologizing when we mess up? I mean, it’s hard to really judge these things. And some of these things are very poor measurements of parenting ability, since there is poor correlation between our input and the output – though many might consider themselves to be doing better if these things changed. We might actually find our efforts to reduce tantrums (for instance) were actually creating a sense of entitlement in the child, and then – you guessed it – parenting ability just took another hit in the numbers.
One percent better at loving our spouses? Is that measured in kisses, hugs, date nights? Or maybe in the number of notes stuck to the mirror? One percent fewer disagreements that don’t end in unity? I’m afraid that none of these sound fruitful to me. Eating habits is a little more measurable. You can make a plan to increase or reduce you caloric, salt or sugar intake by one percent each day until you reach a goal. Unfortunately, nature is prone to thwart our well-intended commitments by fighting our dietary changes.
The world is content with “better” people. That is not what God is doing. God hasn’t asked us to commit ourselves to a one percent improvement per day. He asked for complete surrender, every day. I find the suggestion that we would make a one percent commitment to better our “spiritual disciplines” slightly appalling. Not that being more disciplined is a bad thing. Read your bible. Pray. Fast. Sing. Meet together. But do not for one second think that reading one percent more of the Bible each morning will make you more spiritually equipped. It could just as easily turn you one percent more into an arrogant hypocrite. One percent more prayer time sounds nice. But if prayer is something you are watching the clock for to measure your “success”, I think you’ve missed the point. One percent more fasting? That’s slightly laughable. One percent more time in personal and corporate worship? See my comment on prayer.
I am all for reasonable goals to measure performance. But only so far as it makes sense. Suggesting to your staff that they improve one percent a day sounds nice, but how are you going to measure it? If it is so attainable and identifiable, please do tell. Improve communication by one percent? Are you going to send out more emails? More text messages? Make 1 less paragraph per written communique? One percent fewer typos? Efficiency? Here I go a little weak at the knees. Do we really want to have our church staff be judged on efficiency? This is hardly a biblical virtue (while one could argue good communication most certainly is). Not wasting time is certainly a worthwhile thing, but are you going to measure how long counseling takes, and make an effort to cut it by 1%? Or cut the sermon down by 1% each week? Or make each song during the worship service go faster by 1% (this may be happening without Furtick’s encouragement)?
Consider the calculation itself. If we continue to do 1% each day, we are going to push ourselves to do something ridiculous! Say you start at 50% (I’m giving us all leeway, here). You get 1% better: 50.5%. Now 1% of that better, 51.005. In 71 days you hit 100%. Even If you start at 1%, within a year and a third you should be at 100%. At best one should seriously consider how this stacks up against the law of diminishing returns. For so much energy and time input, I get less and less output. There are fewer things to change, fewer opportunities to be more efficient, fewer holes to close, fewer situations to mend, and less valuable gains for anything that is found. The graph simply is not sustainable. So I quite disagree that 1% is “manageable, identifiable, and attainable“. It very well could be, but that is not guaranteed. It may very well be that the cost required to be 1% better at whatever is simply not worth the “gain”.
Nothing would be drastically different initially. But a year from now you would discover that you would be a completely new person. This is the heart of the problem in applying the “compound effect” to spiritual growth or the church. I don’t want to wait a year to discover that I am a completely new person. I don’t want you to wait a year! If you are in Christ, you are a new person. Start living in that, on the grounds of the death and resurrection of Christ. That will change everything, in an instant.
God is not asking for one percent better commitment to love others. He isn’t asking for one percent more commitment to live in joy. He is not asking for one percent more commitment to forgive those around you. He isn’t asking for one percent more kind words. He is asking for all. All of it. If that seems overwhelming, then you understand. You can’t do it. You can’t work enough. Compounded return on the work you do can’t get you there. The only hope is resting in Christ. You will show love when you realize that your flesh and all its envy and hatred was nailed to the cross with Christ. You will know joy when you fully commit yourself to God’s will, regardless of the circumstance. You will be a better parent only when you know that God has created and empowered you to be one. You will be a better spouse only as you commit to love your wife as much as Christ loves her.
And it’s a daily increase and deposit that over time will take our church to an exponentially greater level than the work we’re putting in to get there. And without us ever losing a step and having to make up ground. I doubt it. It reminds me of the comment I’ve heard about two Chinese Christians who visited America. Asked what most impressed them about the church in America, they responded, “How much has been accomplished apart from the Spirit.” I looked for the original source of that comment, and was not able to find it. If you have it, let me know. Either way, what I am trying to say is that we will accomplish nothing without the Spirit. The growth of the church and of each member of the body is not based on our work ethic and commitment to self-disciplined improvement. It is based on Christ’s completed work, and our total commitment to his mission and message.
My apologies to Pastor Furtick for using his words this way. And apologies to my friend, whose only interest was to encourage and strengthen the body. I know he constantly strives to encourage each of those in his sphere of influence – to greater faith, greater wisdom, greater worship.