The Advantage: 5. What Is Most Important Right Now? Part 1

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 writes,

More than any of the other questions, answering this one will have the most immediate and tangible impact on an organization, probably because it addresses two of the most maddening day-to-day challenges companies face: organizational A.D.D. and silos.

Most organizations I’ve worked with have too many top priorities to achieve the level of focus they need to succeed. Wanting to cover all their bases, they establish a long list of disparate objectives and spread their scarce time, energy, and resources across them all. The result is almost always a lot of initiatives being done in a mediocre way and a failure to accomplish what matters most.


There is nothing more typical of churches — especially big churches — than silos. In management vernacular, a “silo” is part of the church that operates without regard to the entire church.

A classic example is a youth ministry. Youth ministers often make themselves into pastors of their own sub-congregations, setting their own visions and priorities. The result may be great Christian service by children — who think that adults do not care about Jesus. After all, while the kids were traveling around the world serving Jesus, the adults stayed home or else just hung around to cook lasagna.

Therefore, the teens learn that Jesus is for teens and children but not really for adults. They go on mission trips for just the teens, where adults are only there to serve the teens. The teens become the focus of the ministry, the adults only serve their own children, and the teens see a very distorted vision of the church and Christianity.

Indeed, when the elders announce that they want the entire church to become mission oriented, the teen minister may sniff that his program is already mission oriented, and he may recruit adults away from key adult mission efforts, so that the teens get the best volunteers and the adult ministries are starved of recruits. He may even schedule his events in conflict with adult ministries.

Lencioni suggests that the leadership adopt a single thematic goal for the entire congregation. A “thematic goal” has these features —

* There’s just one. The members cannot unite around two or three things. There is surely one most important thing for right now. It can and will change, but it’s one thing at a time.

* It’s a qualitative goal, not quantitative. It’s not “baptize 100 people in 2012!” But it might be “dramatically increase our number of baptisms!”

* It should be temporary, that is, achievable within a year or two. This rules out, “Take Tuscaloosa for Jesus!” Too big.

* It has to be shared by all leaders. It can’t be merely “Increase adult Bible class attendance.” It should church-wide.

[T]he primary purpose of the thematic goal is not necessarily to rally all the troops within the organization, as helpful as that may seem. More than anything else, it is to provide the leadership team itself with clarity around how to spend its time, energy, and resources.

If the leadership (including the youth minister) is united, the church will follow. The key is to get the elders, ministers, and other key ministry leaders to focus on one thing — as a church-wide thing bigger than their individual ministries.

Let’s pause a moment and get away from the book. What’s the biggest complaint with most churches? Where do we most often go wrong? Well, one answer is that we content ourselves with housekeeping. We just do today what we did yesterday because it’s easy and won’t create any complaints.

That attitude is, of course, death for a church. Churches with no ambition, no goals, no direction soon have no members. They die.

What’s the solution? Well, to pick a direction. And how many directions can you go at once? Pretty much, one — right?

Obviously, churches can and do accomplish many things at once, but most of those are housekeeping. We typically staff the nursery and conduct worship and hold classes and do all the minimal church stuff  just fine.

But when real change is needed (and it always is), you can’t move a church but one direction at once. You might need all of more evangelism and more compassion for the needy and better teaching about Jesus and more foreign missions support, but ordinary people need a singular, sharply focused goal that they can buy into and get excited about.

Change is hard for most people, even change they recognize as needed and healthy. Push the church to be more evangelistic while also pushing daily Bible reading, and most people will resolve the conflict by reading their Bibles daily and not being evangelistic. They may even prefer to read their Bibles three times a day! No, to get real, important change, it’s one change at a time. It’s just the way people are.

Now, you can see why this approach is so very different from the old mission-statement approach. A mission statement is too broad, too long-term, too encompassing to actually induce much change. They can help, but they will rarely produce much in the way of real change.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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12 Responses to The Advantage: 5. What Is Most Important Right Now? Part 1

  1. frank144 says:

    Our church has done hardly anything from Lencioni’s book and we are growing like a weed. We simply teach through the whole Bible a couple chapters at each service and have great worship with prayers and songs of praise. The minister makes the word come alive and hits whatever issues that the current chapter presents. The teaching is not dull and academic but spiritual and practical. We are bulging at the seams and now have to have 4 weekend services to handle the crowds. Each Sunday we are now having perhaps 2,500 coming to church and the growth continues. Thus, I am not inclined to pay any attention to Lencioni’s precepts because we are an example of God blessing our growth by simply preaching through the whole word and let God bring the masses.

  2. Frank, once the masses come, what happens after church? I mean, what is happening among those masses outside the building, in your community?

  3. I wonder about Jay’s statement about only being able to move a congregation one direction at a time. Perhaps in terms of overall direction, this is true. But any change in direction worth the price exacted will affect -and change- any number of factors in the life of a congregation. The new direction will change sermon content, financial decisions, raising up and shutting down of programs even staffing decisions and perhaps changes in -perish the thought- the Sunday Morning Service. When God shows you that a real change of direction is in order, it will not suffice to be satisfied with “better use of the Wednesday night time slot”, simply because that is something which we think people can grasp. We cannot decide to move from a consumer mode to a servant mode without it changing pretty much everything we do. Do less, and you risk paying all the emotional and organizational costs of change without getting much back for it at the end of the day.

  4. Frank says:

    The masses serve in the community, go to small groups during the week, go on mission trips, serve the poor. But these activities aren’t why we grow. These activities are the outgrowth of our gratitude.

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    Frank, your description of the church there is almost unbelievable, it is definitely not what we see as normal. It is fantastic. It almost sounds like the growth of the church in the very earliest days. Wasn’t that the actions that the church provided then? So as you make the statement,” But these activities aren’t why we grow. These activities are the outgrowth of our gratitude.” It appears that you believe that the growth is keyed to your works as a group. I wonder if you have not noticed that doing the same actions that the early church did in serving, teaching those outside the church your congregation is sowing the seed and that The Lord is providing the increase. Just as he promised. It could be that if you start believing that this growth is your credit then the whole concept could decline. It will only continue while you give the honor to the provider, The Lord. It is not work inside the church community that expands the kingdom, but the work in the community outside the church by the members that connect with the lost. That is where increase is possible and provided by the Lord. It sounds like you are part of a very evangelistic congregation.

  6. Alabama John says:

    Are any of the other COC in your area cooperating with you?
    I would be interested in hearing their comments on your churches growth.
    God bless all ya’ll in your efforts and success.

  7. Frank says:

    It is not the work inside the community that makes us grow. Our labor is the RESULT of excited Christians who see God working. I have been in many churches of Christ over the years but this is a nondenominational church with no affiliation to CoC. The one CoC in the area is dead and shrinking and they don’t approve of us. It isn’t a perfect church but we are still filled with awe.

  8. Doug says:

    Frank, I am not disputing what you stated in your initial post but I wonder if you are actually inside this churches leadership team and have enough insight into what is happening behind the scenes and in the staff leadership meeting to make such a broad declaration as you made. It’s hard for me to believe that a church can exist as a growing mega-church without some pretty good, inspired leadership existing. I’m not saying it can’t happen but most of the times when it happens there’s some informed leadership at the core of the church.

  9. frank144 says:

    Doug, Certainly the preacher is inspired but he is very humble and puts the focus on the inspiration and majesty of the scriptures. The lessons aren’t great because he is a gifted speaker with many illustrations. The lessons are very inspiring because he gets out of the way and lets the word do it’s work. He really understands how the scriptures in the old and new testaments harmonize together. Every week he brings out insights that I have never seen before and I have been a Christian for 34 years and I have taught hundreds if not thousands of lessons. I believe he is very prayerful, very humble, and very diligent in taking us deeper in the word. I believe lifting out the majesty and grace of God through the scriptures is what attracts so many new people from our community. They are tired of traditional 3 point sermons with cute little stories and catchy titles.

  10. Doug says:

    Frank, Surely the preacher isn’t the only leader in the church. I know that the preacher can make a lot of difference in a church because I have seen churches fare extremely well when a certain preacher is located there and then not do so well after that preacher leaves (as most of them eventually do). The question then becomes the functioning of the rest of the staff and leadership and I think that is where Jay is trying to go with these series of posts. My whole christian history has taught me not to place too much faith in one person because there’s a pretty fair chance you will be disappointed. I know that sounds pretty cynical but it’s what I have experienced more than a few times in my life.

  11. frank144 says:

    Doug, I totally agree on your take on leadership. This church has probably 6 ministers on staff and then easily an additional 15 support staff. In addition, we have about 30 to 40 small groups that meet in homes throughout the week. We have a men’s ministry, a women’s ministry, teens out the wazoo, etc… BUT, the church is not thriving by personalities. The church is thriving because God is blessing our meager efforts and it can’t be reduced to an organizational formula. We never talk about growth goals. We never talk about baptism goals. Again, we simply pray and preach the word and the members jump in and volunteer to help in all sorts of ways because they are so excited to be a part of this. To me it is like Acts 2 where “everyone was filled with awe”.

  12. Doug says:

    Frank, the pont I was making was that while the members as a whole may not talk about goals or leadership issues, I bet the leadership and staff at your church do and that is what Jay was posting about… leadership. Anyway, I am glad that you are excited and happy with your church because that is how it really ought to be for everyone. I spend 3 months of the year in such an atmosphere and 9 months in a totally different atmosphere. I look forward to those 3 month episodes and anticipate them greatly.

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