Toothpaste, Grape Jelly & Church Growth

For me picking out toothpaste is absolutely overwhelming.  I know it seems like such as small choice, but hear me out.  As I walk into the grocery store I have one item on my checklist…toothpaste.  I head to the personal care items, find the toothpaste section, and then attempt to find the toothpaste I want to purchase.  The problem is I don’t know which kind to get.  There are so many brands to choose from.  Brands like Colgate, Crest, Ultrabrite, Sensodyne, Rembrandt, Listerine, and even something called Tom’s of Maine, cover the shelves.

Then there are different types of each brand.  Types like regular, whitening, tarter control and some for sensitive teeth.

Some come in regular tubes, some come in fancy pumps.  Some come in small containers, and some come in big.  All of them seem to be “recommended by dentists everywhere”.

When I see all these options I am overwhelmed and I don’t know which choice to make.  I usually end up calling my wife to get her opinion.

This reminds me of a study I was made aware of that took place at Columbia University.  Here is the short of what they did.  In a grocery store they had two displays setup that gave people the opportunity to sample some jelly.  At one display they gave people 24 samples to try out.  At a separate display they limited the samples to 6 types of jelly.  At both displays they gave those who sampled any jelly a $1 coupon towards the purchase of any of the flavors of jelly they would like.  Here is what they found out….

1. It didn’t matter whether there was 24 or 6 types of jelly, the average person who stopped at both displays tried an average of 1.5 types of jelly.

2. Here is the more amazing/counter-intuitive part – Of those who stopped and sampled jelly where there were 6 options, 30% ended up making a purchase.  On the other hand, of those who stopped at the table with 24 different samples, only 3% ended up making a purchase.  The bottom line – Having four times as many options, reduced the amount of sales from 30% to 3%.

I think the jelly samplers were feeling what I feel about purchasing toothpaste.  They got overwhelmed with the options and decided not to make a decision.  (Thankfully for those I do talk to on a daily basis I do call my wife to figure out what type of toothpaste to buy, and just don’t walk out of the store, but I think you get the idea.)

I wonder if the same type of dynamic happens in churches.  We overwhelm people with options, with having to choose between prayer meetings, home care groups, ministry opportunities, missions trips, men’s conferences, women’s events, and on and on, to the point where people just get overwhelmed and walk away from getting involved at all.

Your thoughts?

(If you are interested in reading notes from the study you can find them at

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Toothpaste, Grape Jelly & Church Growth

  1. I think some people do get overwhelmed with the options, yes. But I also think that so many people, especially newly saved people, are looking for connection. And I think a church that has such diversity in ministry options is the answer they are looking for. They can sneak in slowly, feeling their way around, and find the right fit for them.
    I also think the rule that you have to wait six months before you get invovled in ministry is excellent. This gives you time to sit back, reflect on what you like to do, and see how it fits into what the church is offering. It also allows you to experience so much of what the church does offer, so you’re not pigeonholed into working only in one area, you see there’s so many different options. And the fact that there are so many things that you do not need to make an every week commitment to helps as well. Then you don’t feel so overwhelmed by the commitment. After all, could you imagine how good that jelly sandwich would taste if you had to wait six months for it?
    In other words, the toothpaste aisle may overwhelm becuase everything is so similar, and does the same job. But the various ministries in a church are so diverse, and do so many different jobs. It’s not many flavors that do the same thing, it’s many diverse flavors that tempt the pallet in different ways.