originally published at EffectiveChurch.com
It always amazes me how much talk a church can do and still accomplish nothing. Sure, sometimes the discussion gets to yes, but far too often the NO comes about because too much time has passed. Too much talk and not enough do.
I suppose that’s why the book Action Trumps Everything by Len Schlesinger, president of Babson College resonated with me. The book, written for business, has an almost Nike-esque: Just Do It, or more precisely, Just Do Something aspect. As is typical, his big idea issn’t particularly new, though there were some innovative nuances. But then it didn’t come from some great think tank either. It came from close observation of many people over much time. The rest of this article is a brief excurses into his teachings, reinterpreted for church leaders.
In his book, Schlesinger points out that one of the key differences between leaders who serially succeed and those who don’t is found not in the way they think or the way they plan but in the way they act. That got me thinking about the church leaders I’ve worked with over the years. Those who were able to break out of their mold didn’t do it by reasoning or by planning. They did it by doing. They set a goal and then did what it took to reach that goal. The difference between those who succeeded in reaching their goals is that they did whatever it took to reach their goal. Sometimes that meant they took detours to get there. Sometimes they adjusted the timeline. But here is the part that Schlesinger identifies as one of the keys to serial success: Those who set and were willing to act on their goal were willing to morph their goal into something different than what they visioned at first.
Sounds like cheating, doesn’t it? “If I can’t reach X goal, I’ll simply settle for Y.” But that’s not what’s going on with serial success. We no longer live in an age and a culture where predictions work as well as they once did. Once upon a time we could confidently project outcomes based on the past. Newton’s laws of action and reaction were reliable. Back in the day we had church planting and church growth down to a science. Hire the right leader, buy the right property, put up the right building, advertise in the right places and on launch day you could expect approximately 1.5-2.0 percent of your target audience to show up. (There’s a part of me that misses those “good ol’ days.”)
Today, however, the “build it and they will come” plan of church growth is a recipe for failure. Serial success no longer depends on projections. Instead it depends on the power of yes … and it’s largely fueled by intuition.
In a nutshell, here’s how the power of yes works in the church today.
First comes vision. I’m not talking about the church’s overall vision, but a vision of some ministry or mission that’s used to achieve a particular outcome. For instance, let’s suppose our expected outcome is to increase the number of first-time guests in our modern worship service each week.
Second comes intuition. Let me say that if you’re not the most intuitive leader, then you’re in pretty good company. There are few born intuitives. However, intuition can be learned and honed by most leaders … and in today’s culture, a leader without intuition is like an analog TV in a digital world. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it’s critical in breeding intuition. Spend more time in your community culture … lots more time. Build friendships with enculturated unchurched folks, especially the skeptics and cynics. Watch the new inane television shows that you don’t get until you do get them. And then watch them until you appreciate them. Read what culture is reading. In other words, get to know they culture outside the church walls as well or better than you know the one inside the walls. Only then will you develop the insights necessary for intuition.
Third comes the question. In our case the question would be, “How can we increase the number of first-time guests into our modern worship service each week?” If your intuition is well honed, you’ll have a bunch of ideas. Some of them may even be good ones. Choose whichever one your intuition suggests. Don’t second-guess it … you need to learn to trust your instincts.
Fourth comes action. In the words of Schlesinger:
- Act quickly with what you know;
- Use only the resources you want or can afford to use;
- Take the first step;
- Evaluate the results;
- Make adjustments;
- Take the next step;
- Evaluate, Adjust, Act; repeat.
The genius comes between evaluating and adjusting – and this is where most church leaders fail to succeed. Too often we make a plan and then stick with it through thick or thin. But evaluating and adjusting and acting again are the marks of serial success.
In our example, let’s suppose we intuited that guests would show up if the topic scratched the itch of their skepticism. There are, of course, two parts to this. First, we need a topic (with a catchy title); and second, we need a way to let likely guests know about the topic. Again, intuition must step forward with a suggestion. Our intuition tells us that the hot buttons for our community is the church’s reputation as anti-everything and anti- most everyone as well. So we design a four-week series on Church – The Anti-Dote that will specifically cover four perceived (and sometimes real) bigotries. Next, we intuit that a viral video via YouTube would best catch the local audience’s attention. Of course, getting a video to go viral is at best a long shot, but it’s what the gut says, so off you go.
Of course, the only thing that really counts is results. So you act and then evaluate. If you see an increase in first-time visitors on week one, then you need to decide what worked well and how to capitalize on that … to take it to the next level. You make adjustments and see. On week two, if none of last week’s guests show up for the second part, you’ll need to evaluate the topic, the delivery, hospitality, etc. You can get better insights if you can connect with the previous guests, but that would mean you were intentional about getting their contact information. And so it goes.
The power of yes is in the doing. The power of success is in the evaluation and adjustment. The power of serial success is in the repeating.