I only recently found an interview with Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great et al) for Leadership magazine, though it’s about a year old now.


How do you define “greatness” in a church?
Greatness does not equal bigness. Big is not great and great is not big. In fact, the bigger you become the harder it may be to remain great.

For my purposes, an organization must have three things to qualify as great:

1. Superior performance relative to its mission in the world.

2. A distinctive impact on its community. So you’d say, “If this church disappeared, it would leave a serious hole in this community.”

3. Endurance. Making an impact over a long enough time, so that it’s not dependent on the personality of one leader. If a church is effective during one pastorate, it may be a church with a stellar pastor, but it is not yet a great church.

The subtitle for your monograph is “Why business thinking is not the answer.” How is business thinking misapplied in the social sector?
The mistake social sector organizations often make is to implement “business practices,” but they imitate mediocre businesses.

For instance, bringing in an outside change agent. That’s what many average companies do, but great organizations have the discipline to grow leadership from within. There’s also the practice of using incentives. Average companies spend a lot of time incentivizing desired behavior. Great institutions discipline themselves to get people whose character is naturally to exhibit great behavior.

There’s some really good thought here. There’s long been a kind of back-and-forth debate in the church about imitating business practices. I’m clearly not on board with the “Pastor-as-CEO” model, but large institutional churches are already dealing with this and can’t just ignore it. We can probably come up with an equal set of examples of success and failure for the use of business thinking in the church, but perhaps the mistake is in thinking the tarring should continue without switching brushes. What I mean is, perhaps it’s quite true that the problem isn’t the use of business models per se but rather the use of mediocre (or outright bad) ones. Someone recently told me that the problem isn’t the church’s use of business practices but their selection of which ones to apply. The church can tend to grab poor ones, or to latch onto reasonable ones, but ten years too late. In this sense, they’re out of step with the culture and are applying the wrong models as a result. Given that fact, after trying for a couple of years of course they’ll evaluate the idea rather poorly. As but one example, The Cluetrain Manifesto is near ten years old now, and while the business world is starting to speak of a “post-Cluetrain” era (post- as in building upon), the church has yet to understand and embrace most of what the Cluetrain speaks about.

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