In his 2019 book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek differentiates between finite and infinite endeavors. In finite tasks the people involved, rules, and ultimate, specific goal are clear. For example, a football game is played between two teams, officiated according to stated and agreed-upon rules on a standardized playing field, and won by the team with the most points when time runs out. Infinite efforts, though, have higher and longer-term stakes. They are framed by values rather than by competition and the most easily-distinguished metrics. They require us to be nimble to the point of pivoting – even at great short-term cost – so that we can better fulfill our higher purpose. Sinek notes that many people fail to recognize when they are in infinite games, instead clinging to the comforts of finite strategies and the illusion of finite goals. This leads them to strategize from scarcity and short-term gains rather than abundance and innovation.
Sinek writes primarily for business and political audiences, but his observations hold true for churches as well. When congregations hold themselves hostage to numbers, primarily attendance and budget, we are playing a finite game. (This is ironic since we worship an eternal God!) We say that “if we can just get more young families in here, we’ll be able to fill the Sunday School rooms and the sanctuary again.” We act as though the numbers are the goal. We believe (whether or not we say so explicitly) that they are competing with neighboring faith communities. But when churches focus on their purpose, on being the church in our place and time, we are freed up to experiment and partner, discern and learn in order to share Christ’s love in more places and ways.
May we all allow ourselves the discomfort and the faithful focus of thinking from an infinite point of view.