We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.
Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.
Lencioni advises his readers to select three “strategic anchors” that will define how the organization will succeed. Why three? Well, experience dictates that most organizations can’t focus on more than three things at once. It’s not about business vs. church or whatever. It’s just the nature of the modern human being. We have very limited attention spans, even in church. Maybe … especially in church.
[T]he next question the leaders would need to answer, and the one at the heart of the strategic anchor activity, is, How will we succeed? Or put another way, How will we make decisions in a purposeful, intentional, and unique way that allow us to maximize our success and differentiate us from our competitors?
Now, this raises an interesting question: who are our competitors? Think about it.
I bet the first thought for many readers is that other Church of Christ in town. Or the Baptist Church across the street. Is that right? They are no more our competitors than the Northport Wal-Mart is a competitor with the Tuscaloosa Wal-Mart (Tuscaloosa and Northport are adjacent cities here in West Alabama.)
We act as though those other congregations are our competitors. We think that way. Our members even act and think that way. But those churches are only competitors because we’ve divided into so many too-small churches that there aren’t enough volunteers and contributors to go around! That’s what the Bible calls sin. And we lean into the punch, we further the division, by acting like we were saved and joined into the body of Jesus Christ to compete with other parts of his body.
Try again. Who’s really our competitor?
I’ll accept two answers. First, “Satan” would work just fine, because it’s true. Second, “worldliness” or “selfishness” or “materialism” or “individualism” or “consumerism” or any of the many -isms that define the world in contrast to Christianity would be a good answer, too.
When we seek to save someone for Christ, what are we saving them from? Well, “hell” is not a bad answer. It’s true. But isn’t it also a life based on the lies told by Satan? Isn’t it also self-indulgence, the works of the flesh, indeed anything that keeps us from becoming like Jesus?
But we just don’t think this way. Not really. We preach far more sermons against transubstantiation than against selfishness or self-indulgence. After all, we’re pretty solidly against transubstantiation and yet we remain, as a people, very self-centered. Indeed, we reinforce self-centeredness, as shown by the fact that we often become more self-centered and self-indulgent the longer we attend church. Yep – the more sermons we hear, the more classes we attend, the more experiences we have in worship, the more selfish we become.
I say this with confidence because I’ve polled elders from across the country, asking which segment of their churches is most demanding and selfish, and they uniformly respond that this is most true of their long-term members. You see, this is what happens when we see the church down the road as our competitor rather than all that tempts us to be unlike Jesus.
When it’s that other church, we celebrate our superiority. Our identity becomes “the people who cared enough to obey the Bible” rather than “a people striving to become like Jesus.” The first makes us arrogant. The second makes us humble. And it’s not hard to distinguish who among us has been raised on which gospel.
For every one soul we might win from the Church of Christ down the road by disputing over instrumental music, fellowship halls, or whatever, there’s a thousand or more souls we might win from Satan by lifting up Jesus by living like Jesus.
So before you decide how to compete well with your competitors, think hard about with whom you are really competing. Get it wrong, and you’ll not only compete effectively, you might just turn your members into parodies of real Christians.