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.




Think before you tweet (or post to Facebook)

I started a Facebook account years ago to keep track of what my teenage children were up to. Years have passed since then, so I think enough time has passed that, if my grown children read this, I’m safe in making that confession. It didn’t take long before my Facebook account took on a life of its own; I reconnected with extended family; old high school and college friends friended me; and lots of folks in churches that I’ve served connected with me. I established a Twitter account to follow people. If you have a Twitter account, what I’ve just said makes sense to you; if not, it sounds like I’m a stalker! In the Twitter world, you can follow people of influence (pastors, writers, newsmakers, athletes, etc.). You follow people, and in turn people can follow you and read what you post. I have set up my Twitter account so that my tweets automatically post to my Facebook wall.

Basically, I post to Twitter and Facebook for two reasons: to connect and to influence. I love the ease with which these two mediums allow me to interact with family and friends. I get to see pictures they have taken and learn what’s happening in their life, and they get to see what’s happening in my life. The other reason I use Twitter and Facebook is to (hopefully) be a positive influence for Jesus and His Kingdom.

With any communication—especially one with such great reach and impact—wisdom and discernment are essential. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says, “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven, you are on earth so let your words be few.”

When is comes to using Facebook and Twitter, here are some basic guidelines for pastors:

1. Don’t vent your personal/professional frustrations on Facebook or Twitter.
All of us have certain family members, parishioners, or friends that get under our skin from time to time. There are Biblical ways of dealing with conflict (see Matthew 18) that have nothing whatsoever to do with venting on Facebook or Twitter. When it comes to conflict, deal with it face-to-face. Don’t use social media to vent about it even using an indirect post; and don’t email the person to address it.

2. Don’t post about politics.
I never ever want to lose the privilege of talking to people about Jesus, so I almost never post anything about politics and elections. It’s not that I’m apolitical; I’m actually conservative in my political views. But if I talk about my politics, I have immediately lost an entire audience of folks that have a different view. Nothing divides people like politics and nothing will limit your ability to influence for kingdom like filling your Facebook wall with political posts. You say, “But Jeff, you said you wanted to influence. Why not influence politically?” Because all the politics and all the Democrats and Republicans together can’t change the world, let alone a human heart…only Jesus can do that, and I want to speak about Him.

3. Be careful about your sports posts.
Along the same line as politics, we need to be really careful about what we post in the world of sports. For example, I am a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan living outside Indianapolis in the middle of Colts country. When the Colts win, I try my best to be happy for the many folks I know who are Colts fans. When the Colts lose (and they lost a lot last year), I would never post glib comments about the team’s struggles. Last year, I went to Lucas Oil Stadium to see the Steelers pull out a win over the Colts. I posted about being there; but I posted nothing derogatory about the Colts. If you want to maximize your influence for Christ, it pays to use wisdom when posting things about local sports teams. One pastor told me that he made a big mistake early in his pastorate by not adopting his church’s favorite baseball team. He was a fan of a rival team and let it be known that he didn’t care for his church’s home team. As much as I love Pittsburgh sports teams, I am not going to preach about them and lose the opportunity to preach about Jesus. At the end of the day, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, not a sports team.

4. Be careful with posts, likes, and direct messages sent to the opposite sex
One of my boundaries is to not regularly interact with any member of the opposite sex on social media. The key word is “regularly”. I don’t regularly interact with any individual of the opposite sex on Facebook or Twitter. Occasionally, I will hit the like button on something a gal has posted on Facebook; rarely will I post a comment on a gal’s wall. Why? As a guy, as a pastor, as a husband, and a father, I have lots of reasons to have healthy boundaries with women. More and more, Facebook is fast becoming a way for people unhappy in their marriage to connect. Facebook is great; but use it carefully. It would be all too easy for a husband who is struggling in his marriage to be tempted when an old flame suddenly begins to communicate with him. By the way, beware when someone of the opposite sex comments on nearly everything you post on Facebook; that’s a big, BIG red flag.

5. Be careful when posting about your family.
Pastors’ families live in a fishbowl already; be very careful when posting things that deal with your spouse or children. I very rarely post pictures of my wife and children; it has nothing to do with whether they are photogenic (they are), but it has everything to do with keeping my home and even family vacations “safe” places where my family doesn’t have to worry about me posting stuff all time. When I do post something that includes my wife and/or children, I get their permission.

As a pastor, social media has incredible power for good. Use it to connect with folks in your church. They can get to know you as pastor in ways they can’t in the larger setting of Sunday. Use social media to influence for Christ. Post about your faith. Post links to thought provoking articles and Scripture. Challenge people to think through a spiritual lens. But above all use wisdom.