The Big Idea - Dave Ferguson

I picked up The Big Idea because it was on a list of recommended books put out by Leadership Network, some guys I have worked with in the past and respect quite a bit. It was written by Dave Ferguson, Lead Pastor at Community Christian Church (CCC) - a multi-site church headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.

The book discusses a philosophy of doing Sunday morning church in such a way that the entire Sunday morning "experience" focuses on one primary theme - the "Big Idea." The rationale from the big idea comes from a core value that "[the church] can no longer afford to waste another Sunday allowing people to leave confused abotu what to do next." As a solution, CCC leaders have elected to frame their entire Sunday morning program for children, youth, and adults about one "Big Idea." The hope is that a laser focus on one big idea will better position the congregation to understand and act on Truth, rather than leaving the service overwhelmed by too many messages in too many environments.

The first half of this book describes a part of the rationale behind the philosophy. The assumption by Ferguson (and his team) is that the average Christian is bombarded with a different message in small group, Sunday school, the main church service, and other weekly Bible studies and church services. CCC's contention is that the mixture of messages leads to confusion and or helplessness when it comes to applying Truth to the believer's life. The solution of the "Big Idea" allows for a unification of teaching, better checks on the types of curriculum the church member is handed, and the ability for children, youth, and adults to have common ground to discuss and apply when leaving the church. It also fosters unity of purpose on the staff and volunteer teams.

The second half of the book describes the process CCC goes through to develop and implement the "big idea" - a series of meetings beginning a year out, which gives the staff and volunteer teams ownership in the "big ideas" for the coming year. It also gives everyone on the team time to exercise creativity and produce quality resources to aide the communication of the "big idea." The concept for each "big idea" comes a year out. Then, the idea is honed down in meetings thirteen weeks out, nine weeks out, five weeks out, three weeks out, two weeks out, and one week out.

I really appreciated two major things in this book. First, Ferguson repeatedly warns against merely adopting CCC's philosophy without taking into consideration your own church's culture and DNA. This was a refreshing change from many church philosophy books that give the distinct impression that their philosophy will work in every culture, even when it won't. The Big Idea does a great job at pointing out several potential pitfalls to consider before even applying a small part of the book to your church.

Secondly, the chapter (3.8) on the relationship between the Senior Pastor and the Worship pastor is worth the price of the book. Having served as a worship pastor, and currently preparing to serve as a senior pastor at some point, I may have a heightened sensitivity to this relationship - but these guys nailed it. Senior Pastors and Worship Leaders often have perspectives that mix about as easily as oil and water. Yet, their relationship is one of the most strategic in the church. This book does a good job at pointing out how the two can better understand each other.

I have one primary concern with The Big Idea, and it's a biggie to me. The entire system depends on developing the "big idea" first. As a result, the process as presented in the book requires an overhaul for churches that value a more expository style. But worse (in my opinion), is the fact that the system presented in The Big Idea begins with application rather than beginning with the Text. As the process is layed out in The Big Idea, the creative team figures out what they believe should be the "takeaway" from each Sunday morning, and then goes off in search of "stories, Scriptures, illustrations, insighs, props, and jokes..."

This kind of approach (as the norm) makes me pretty nervous. When you begin with the desired application, you open yourself up to the danger of finding passages that weren't written to say what we make them say. As a result, the Bible can be relegated to a mere illustration of our point rather than the "Big Idea" being the summation of the Bible's point.

I'm not making a statement about whether or not topical preaching is okay. I'm not saying this particular method can't (or isn't) being done well by the good people at CCC and across the planet. I'm simply saying that I get really nervous when we begin with our desired outcome, and overlay Scripture, jokes, and illustrations to make our point.

Don't be discouraged from reading this book. It has some good ideas - more than I can write in a blog entry. But read the process with an eye for how it might be tweaked to begin with the Scripture and end with "the big idea."


chloeadele said...

"As leaders of Christian organizations, we must never be in the business of creating vision, but we must always be in the business of casting the vision which has already been established."

Seemed advantageous to revisit this thought.

Chris Freeland said...

You're right. And it's touchy... It's one thing to be creative in how we communicate "The Vision." It's another thing to create the vision and then go looking for where it intersects with "The Vision."

Not saying Ferguson and his crew do that - I don't know them, and haven't ever visited their church. But the book walks a fine line.

flaagirl said...

Great summary of The Big Idea. Our Senior Pastor is hoping to read the book, but wanted more info on it before ordering. Thanks for the thorough review!

Stephanie Flaa
Office Manager
Coastside Community Church
Pacifica, CA