Somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, the church decided that the business world was the “older brother” we most wanted to be like. So we toddled after the models and strategies and formulas our “big brother” was peddling to business leaders as the keys to success, mimicking them in the awkward way little brothers and sisters do.
For stretches of time, it seemed like we could really pull off the impersonation—a lot of the business-strategy ideas seemed like a perfect fit for church ministry, and some of them even seemed to “work.” We “moved our cheese,” evangelized the “seven habits,” spurred “good to great” cultures, morphed ourselves to attract “raving fans,” and even got a little naughty and “broke all the rules.”
But three decades into this metaphorical experiment in hybrid ministry strategies it’s now clear that the Kingdom of God described by Jesus looks very little like a Fortune 500 company. Instead, Jesus almost always revealed the Kingdom of God using the metaphor of botany, not business. We are “dead branches,” he is the “True Vine” (John 15). Truth grows like seeds that are planted in the soil, and “all by itself the soil produces grain” (Mark 4:28). And God’s kingdom is like “the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants… (Mark 4:32).”
But even though we’ve sometimes veered way off on our a metaphors in the church, that doesn’t mean there’s no gold to mine in the business world—we can still find a few shiny nuggets if we pan for them, but strip-mining just won’t cut it anymore.
My friend Dan Webster, founder of Authentic Leadership (authenticleadershipinc.com) and former director of youth ministry at Willow Creek Community Church, just sent me a great little piece of prophecy from Fortune Magazine. Written by legendary business consultant Verne Harnish, it’s a treatise on the top six ways “gazelle” businesses have spurred rapid growth. I’ll tackle each one, extracting a Kingdom-of-God (KOG) truth from each one….
1. Get an edge—Harnish says “gazelle” companies “find an underlying advantage of 10 to 30 times over the competition….” He recommends studying the biggest “cost and time constraints” in your market, then challenging conventional thinking about those constraints.
The KOG: What are the biggest constraints we face in youth ministry? I’d say two are: Kids’ busyness and margin-less schedules and a lack of parental involvement in discipling their own children. Challenging the conventional thinking in these two areas might mean ditching a traditional “come to us” ministry model for a “go to them” model, and making it your top priority (instead of a difficult add-on) to find ways to serve and disciple parents.
2. Own a phrase—Harnish says that “brand is about owning a word or two in the minds of your market.” He’s talking about “owning” a phrase that perfectly describes what you do, and why.
The KOG: Instead of naming your ministry with something that sounds relevant and youthy, why not call it what it really is, using KOG language? For example: “The Dead (But Alive)” or “The Found” or “The War Party” or “Ruined for Jesus.” I know, maybe these are lame—but what phrase would you and your leaders like to “own” in your community?
3. Hyperfocus—“Align the entire company around a single measurable priority each quarter,” says Harnish. Narrow your focus to just one overarching mission.
The KOG: I’ll take my shot here—I think the “measurable priority” for every youth ministry, everywhere, should be something called The Progression: “Get to know Jesus well, because the more you know Him, the more you’ll love Him, and the more you love Him, the more you’ll want to follow Him, and the more you follow Him, the more you’ll become like Him, and the more you become like Him, the more you become yourself.”
4. Control your cash—Because growth can siphon away your resources, Harnish says leaders should “construct a business model that fuels your growth without the need of outside capital.”
The KOG: The “capital” of youth ministry is volunteer leaders—are you recruiting adult leaders as if your group will double in size this year?
5. Write!—The way to capture the attention of potential customers, says Harnish, is to “flood the digital market space with blogs, white papers, YouTube videos, and Twitter messages that align with the phrase you own.”
The KOG: When it comes to communication, saturation is the lynchpin. Jesus used preaching (less than we do), parables, experiences, miracles, and personal modeling to saturate his disciples. What’s your saturation level in these areas?
6. Pulse faster—Businesses that grow faster than the norm have leadership teams that connect much more often than the norm. “The executive teams of the fastest-moving companies huddle daily, as if in constant crisis mode,” says Harnish.
The KOG: Simply, the more often you connect with your leaders, the more vibrant your ministry will be. It was true of the early believers: “They all joined together constantly in prayer…” (Acts 1:14) and “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1) and “All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44). ◊