Sermons by Pastor Marlan Knittel

Marlan Knittel

Pastor Marlan's Blog

August 26, 2017
Wise World Foolish Church Part 5

Push the Flywheel

In my early teen years, my friend's father began to dig a well. He had recently moved his family to a wilderness area outside of town. They had a home and electricity, but no water--and definitely not enough money to hire a professional. So it was that I often found myself with my friend and his brother “helping” Mr. Roberts dig a well in the scrub oak-covered hills near their home.

Glimpses of starlight and moonlight shown through the trees as we walked the short distance on the narrow trail to the well. Then under the glare of floodlights hung from trees, Mr. Roberts would climb down a ladder and start breaking up the dirt and rocks at his feet. A little while later, he would yell “OK" and we would begin to hoist the heavy bucket up to the surface and add its contents to the nearby dirt pile.

It was difficult, tedious, and sometimes dangerous work. To make matters worse, we hit bedrock some twenty feet or so down. A lesser man might have given up, but not Mr. Roberts. He purchased a rotary jackhammer, a three-foot-long diamond-tipped drill bit, and a box of dynamite with caps. And night after night, he would bore holes deep into the rock, pack in the dynamite and gently insert the caps. Then he'd wire the caps to a long cord, climb out and place a piece of plywood over the well.

All of us would retreat a safe distance away and then Mr. Roberts would flip the switch. There was a sudden earth-shaking “KABOOM,” followed by rocks falling from the sky--and the process would start all over again.

Soon he was at forty feet and then fifty. Sometimes the drill bit stuck and had to be carefully teased out. Other times, it broke and had to be brought into town for welding. And always, there was the back-breaking labor. Filling the bucket. Hoisting it to the surface. Dumping it out. Again, again and again. Followed by the incessant, bone-jarring drilling. It became even more difficult when water began accumulating in the hole and had to be bucketed out. But more often than not, he’d be standing in water, drilling away, occasionally feeling mild electric shocks due to the inadequate grounding of the drill or extension cords.

But that never stopped him. Soon the well was sixty feet deep and then seventy. And finally one evening, he had reached his goal. The well was deep enough and there was plenty of water.

What if Mr. Roberts had given up? Or what if he had gotten down to thirty or forty feet, and then decided that there was a more promising location in the next ravine over? The reason he was successful is that he was convinced that he was in the right spot and that eventually, with perseverance, he'd have plenty of water. Mr. Roberts understood the flywheel concept.

You see, it's not enough for a company or church to...

  1. Get the right people (Part 1)
  2. Infuse the process with the brutal facts of reality (Part 2)
  3. Emulate the hedgehog with a Core Focus (Part 3)
  4. Create a culture of accountability rather than control (Part 4)

No, there's one last vital step.

This is the last post in a five-part series. Today, we will examine Jim Collins' fifth business principle as it relates to church growth.

Fifth, a great company (or church) understands the Flywheel Concept.

Imagine that your task is to rotate a massive 30 foot, 5000 pound disk. You push with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward and after a few hours you get the flywheel to complete one turn.  You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster, with continued great effort, you move it around a second time. You keep pushing in a consistent direction. Then three turns…four….five… the flywheel builds up speed…six turns…seven….eight…it builds momentum… 20…30…50…a hundred. Then at some point – breakthrough!  The momentum of the whole thing works in your favor. (Max Hodgen's Cliff Notes on Jim Collins' Good to Great, p. 8)

This is precisely what great companies do. But don't confuse it with perseverance. It's more than that.

Many churches doggedly keep doing the very things that have never brought results--expecting that somehow things will change. They somehow expect that if each visitor gets a bulletin and a "hello" and the church is clean and the service gets out at noon with all the requisite prayers, songs, and announcements, somehow visitors will flock to church like flies to a corpse! One church believed all they had to do was advertise more. That's like a restaurant believing that their low clientele can be remedied by remodeling the building and posting bigger signage--when the real problem is that their food is stale and bland!

Some leaders capriciously implement every flash-in-the-pan idea, resulting in confusion. The flywheel is already spinning in one direction. But suddenly the new leader brings all that momentum to a stop, and starts pushing it in another direction. Then a new idea grabs him and the process is repeated. And finally when a good leader arrives with a laser-like hedgehog focus, he's met with, "It won't work. We've already tried that."

Great leaders know where to "push." Like the hedgehog, they know their “passion” and what they are “best” at that also brings returns. They're not put off by resistance. They just keep nudging the flywheel until it gains momentum and then becomes unstoppable. Jim Collins describes what this is like:

The flywheel image captures the overall feel of what it was like inside the companies as they went from good to great. No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. (Jim Collins, Good to Great, p. 165)

From the outside, they look like dramatic, almost revolutionary breakthroughs. But from the inside, they feel completely different, more like an organic development process. (p. 168)

Lasting transformations from good to great follow a general pattern of buildup followed by breakthrough. (p. 172)

But the good-to-great executives simply could not pinpoint a single key event or moment in time that exemplified the transition. Frequently, they chafed against the whole idea of allocating points and prioritizing factors. (p. 168)

The good-to-great companies understood a simple truth: Tremendous power exists in the fact of continued improvement and the delivery of results.… When you do this in such a way that people see and feel the build up of momentum, they will line up with enthusiasm. (pp. 174-175)

What do the right people want more than anything else? They want to be part of a winning team. They want to contribute to producing visible, tangible results. (p. 177)

This happened almost unintentionally at a church I pastored. When I got there, church attendance was low for a church that sat 700, but faithful pastors before me had begun pushing the flywheel. Already, there was some momentum in developing small groups and teachers. Members had been trained to talk to friends about their faith, provide a welcoming atmosphere for visitors, and evangelize door-to-door. Already, there had been an emphasis on public evangelism, and people had been trained to pray. Already, a Godly team had brought an Adventist radio station to town.

Instinctively I knew that I didn't have to redirect or stop the momentum. The flywheel of love for truth and sharing was already spinning in the right direction. And with counsel from elders and ministry leaders, we kept pushing the wheel. We held prayer conferences and seminars to encourage love for God and lost people. We kept supporting our radio station. To add even more energy to our Core Focus, we held training weekends to develop new teachers of the Word and to support existing teachers.

The results were anything but spectacular, but we kept pushing the flywheel until slowly we began to see new people each Sabbath. People who'd show up with a longing to hear truth or keep Sabbath. And we were able to disciple some of them. Sure we could tell that attendance was up, but we didn't realize how fast the flywheel was spinning until a veteran evangelist held a month-long series. It was only when it was over that we realized--to our surprise--that over 40 people had been baptized. And of those, only eleven were people we had not worked with before. Everyone else had been connected to a small group or study or class.

It is Jesus who said, "The children of this world are ... wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8). As Seventh-day Adventists, we certainly don't need new truth or a new message. But we desperately need what Collins suggests here. I have watched scores of board members and church leaders violate principle after principle of leadership and then wonder why their church isn't growing. Collins may not be religious, but his principles are part and parcel of how Jesus formed the early church.

  1. Get the right people
  2. Infuse the process with the brutal facts of reality
  3. Emulate the hedgehog with a Core Focus
  4. Create a culture of accountability rather than control
  5. Push the flywheel

While Collins spends a lot of time on these five concepts, his entire book does not focus merely on "how" to create a great company. Interwoven throughout each page is the "who" factor--what makes a great leader. I would urge that Collins’ book be required reading for every pastor, every elder and every board member. (I've outlined some specific tips in the section below this article, titled "Church Leadership Tips: Prioritizing People.")

How much do you value people? Leaders today know that their success depends on the people they employ. In 1988, Douglas Sharratt was frustrated. He was using a controller made by Rockwell--but that controller didn't communicate with another automation device that used a different communication protocol. His solution? To invent a programmable chip that would serve as a translator between different pieces of hardware. And thus ProSoft Technology, Inc. was born, a company today worth millions.

However, the secret of Sharratt's success wasn't limited to a programmable piece of silicone. It was the people he hired and the culture he created. Employees love working for ProSoft! I know. My wife was one of them. Having worked in retail and hospitality at places such as IHOP and Home Depot, she is well aware of how most employees are handled. To this day, she has a visceral negative response when driving past places she's worked at before. But not so with ProSoft.

Sharratt--and his leaders after him--nurtured a culture where people were valued above policy. Employees were given accountability and great freedom to create. They weren't micromanaged or threatened. Priority was given to each employee’s professional development--my wife started out as a technical writer, but was eventually trained and promoted to be a software engineer. In every area, employees were given freedom to work and play on company time. Snacks were available as well as games of Nerf basketball or the company gym. And given this mixture of freedom and accountability, Sharratt's employees turned ProSoft from a one-man band into an international company. There was, however, one thing that was never tolerated: employees who could not get along with and respect others. If an employee could not be a team player, he or she was terminated.

Ever wonder why Jesus spent so much time countering the disciples’ visions of grandeur and power? He was not interested in creating a church filled with petty bureaucracy and emphasis on policies and procedures. His goal was to create leaders who would create a culture that would foster the explosive growth of His early church. And the rest is history. With the promise of his Holy Spirit underneath our wings, there should be no limit to the heights we can reach.

Church Leadership Tips: Prioritizing People

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