Start with “Why”

In the early 1970s, only 15% of the traveling population traveled by air. Southwest Airlines focused their attention on the other 85%. “We are the champion for the common man.” That was WHY they started the airline. In the 1970s, air travel was expensive and if Southwest was going to be the champion for the common man they had to be cheap, fun and simple. That’s how they did it. That’s how they were to champion the cause of the common man. “You are now free to move about the country,” they repeated in their advertising. That saying was more than a tagline, it became a cause—a cause looking for followers. What Southwest achieved became the stuff of business legend. As a result of WHY they do what they do, and because they are highly disciplined in HOW they do it, they are the most profitable airline in history.

Why does Apple exist? It exists to empower the individual spirit and, by the way, they make really good computers, phones and music players. Apple knows why they exist better than most companies. They have inspired fanatical loyalty from their customers. And in the process, Apple became the most profitable and valuable company on the planet. The Apple Store at the Fashion Mall in Indianapolis has more sales per square foot than the Tiffany’s store in the same mall. The same store has more total sales than a Macy’s department store.

Costco knows the answer to why it exists. It exists (1) to value and serve its employees; (2) to serve its customers by providing high quality products and low prices combined, delivered with high service; (3) and last—in that order—to give a good return to its shareholders. How can you pay more in employee costs, offer low prices and give your shareholders a good return? Don’t you have to sacrifice one to get the other? Costco knows why it exists and it does it all well. I’ve been a loyal Costco member since Carla and I lived in Seattle and they continue to amaze me with price and service. I’m hooked. I’ll drive past Kroger, Walmart, and Target to get to a Costco.

In his book “Start With Why”, Simon Senek studied leaders who have had the greatest influence in the world and he discovered that they all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way—and it’s the complete opposite of what everyone else does. Senek calls this powerful idea “The Golden Circle”. It provides the framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY. Starting with WHY works in big business, in small business, and in the non-profit (church) world.

WHAT: Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. Everyone can easily describe the products or services a company provides.

HOW: Some companies/organizations and people know HOW to do WHAT they do. HOW might be a “proprietary process” or “unique focus” of service provided. HOWs are often given to explain how something is different or better. Many think HOWs differentiate their company from others.

WHY: Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do.

Let’s apply the lesson of the Golden Circle to churches. Most churches approach the Golden Circle from the outside in. Every church knows what they do. They have Sunday services. They have Sunday School. They care for each other. They raise money for missions. They have programs and worship. They have children’s and youth ministries. They have boards and committees. A few churches can answer HOW. Maybe they have a certain focus or mission that differentiates them from other churches. But very few churches have a clear compelling idea of why they exist. In a contemporary survey, church members were polled as to why their local church exits. The answer was staggering: 88% answered, “The church exists to serve my needs and the needs of my family.” When it comes to the church, we approach it all wrong.

Why should someone attend our church? Why should they sacrifice their time or their money? Here are some of the answers you might hear:

  • “We are running behind on our budget”
  • “We could really use some help in our children’s ministry.“
  • “We need to get more young people in the church. You are young, we would love for you to make First Church your home church.”
  • “Our pastor preaches really great sermons.”
  • “We are a loving church. We are really friendly.”
  • “We are looking for a youth pastor to get some young people back in the church.”
  • “Our worship service is wonderful.”

None of those reasons will produce fierce loyalty, sacrifice and inspiration. No one has extra time in his or her busy life. No one has extra time to give so a church can maintain programs. No one has large sums of money to carve out so the church can meet its budget.

Instead of communicating WHAT we do or even HOW we do it, we need to answer WHY. Pastor, WHY do people come to your church? If you asked them, what would they say? Their answers will tell you how well you are communicating the WHY.

WHY does the local church exist? What is your purpose? What is your cause? What do you believe that drives you? What drives you to get out of bed in the morning? And WHY should anyone care? People won’t sacrifice their time and money for programs and budgets, but they will sacrifice to see lives changed. They will sacrifice to see those who were dead in their sins find life in Christ. They will sacrifice to come alongside a church that is making a difference for time and eternity. In the gospels, the person of Jesus was so compelling that his disciples left everything to follow him. They left their businesses, their families, and their homes because they saw something in Jesus. Who he was and his mission was worth every sacrifice.

The local church has the most compelling, exciting, inspiring WHY of any organization on the planet. The WHY of the church has a greater eternal return on investment than Apple. The WHY of the church is more powerful to change a life than the best service a company can offer. The WHY of the church should inspire people to sacrifice their time and money. The WHY of the church should lift you to new heights of leadership you never thought possible. Start with WHY.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: