It was in a secular book that the light came on for me. Suddenly, the groping steps I'd taken, in darkness, to grow my churches were powerfully illuminated by the insights of business guru Jim Collins. Instantly, I recognized many of these principles in the actions of Jesus and in Inspiration.
This is the second post in a five-part series. In the first post, we examined Jim Collins' first secret--getting the right people "on the bus," with practical steps for accomplishing that via the Nominating Committee or Ministry Assignment Committee. Today, we will examine the second principle as it relates to church growth.
Great companies are not afraid to face the brutal facts. One such company was the office machines giant Pitney Bowes.
Pitney’s first management meeting of the new year typically consisted of about 15 minutes discussing the previous year (almost always superb results) and two hours talking about the “scary squiggly things” that might impede future results.… The entire management team would lay itself open to searing questions and challenges from salespeople who dealt directly with customers. (Collins, Good to Great p. 72)
In every case of good to great companies,
the management team responded with a powerful psychological duality. On the one hand, they stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality. On the other hand, they maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts. We came to call this duality the Stockdale Paradox. (p. 83)
Great companies are hostile to a culture of complacency. They know that ignoring the needs of their customers and coasting along is deadly. But churches do this all the time. I watched one church that had been a bursting-at-the-seams congregation of young families, turn into a handful of grey heads under my watch. Being fairly young, I knew something was wrong and did everything I could to turn the tide. But what I could not correct was the entrenched culture of older members believing that the church existed only for their needs, and ignoring the needs of the community and visitors. And now the gray heads are gone and the church has transitioned from an Anglo to a Hispanic congregation.
At another church I pastored, a number of parishioners were moving away due to their increasing age and economic factors. While the church was comfortable for Adventists, most visitors from the community never returned. My hunch is that they didn’t return because of the members’ lack of warmth, because of opinion-based Sabbath School classes, tedious hymns (or 70's-era praise songs) poorly sung in a meaningless, lifeless manner, meandering speeches by elders, and a lack of authenticity.
In addressing these things, I was surprised at the attitude of church leaders. Some seemed entirely unconcerned, as if they assumed this was simply a game of musical chairs where new people would automatically fill the empty chairs. Others believed the secret to increasing attendance was to promote the services during worship, reinstating 13th Sabbath programs, and having more organ music! While this church prided themselves on "having the truth," they couldn't face the truth about themselves. Like the church of Laodicea, I doubt they will even recognize themselves in these words. What this church needed was Churchill's attitude towards the truth. He knew that to survive the war, England had to face the brutal facts of their woeful unpreparedness.
Armed with this bold vision [of winning against all odds], Churchill never failed, however, to confront the most brutal facts. He feared that his towering, charismatic personality might deter bad news from reaching him in its starkest form. So, early in the war, he created an entirely separate department outside the normal chain of command, called the Statistical Office, with the principal function of feeding him--continuously updated and completely unfiltered--the most brutal facts of reality. (p. 73)
Like Churchill, churches must create a culture of freedom where people's opinions and suggestions are taken seriously and valued. That's the only way to ensure that people around you won't withhold facts, but will be more concerned with truth than what you think about them.
It was Churchill’s passion for truth--even brutal truth--that eventually enabled England to prepare for and resist Germany's aggression.
Isn't it ironic that Collins highlights a tendency of modern companies that Jesus also diagnosed in the end-time church--an unwillingness to see itself, and a feeling of no need or desire for change (Rev 3:17)?
Collins is affirming the Biblical principle that intense scrutiny is a prelude to health and growth (2 Cor. 13:5, Ps. 139:23). As Jesus points out in Matt. 9:12 and Mark 2:17, if you think you're OK, why would you need a doctor?
Businesses or churches that cannot or will not face the brutal facts will never endure the painful changes necessary to heal the cancer that is slowly killing the organization.
Getting the right people on the bus and facing the brutal facts are huge steps towards enabling growth, but they aren't enough.
This is the second post in a five-part series. Click here for Part 3.