I love business books. Not because I’m in the business world. Not because I have a desire to be in the business world. I love business books because I learn about leadership, organization, systems, vision, management, etc.; all essential things for a pastor to know and grow in.
Yet while I love consuming business books I’m simultaneously saddened by them. I am saddened because I read stories of men and women that were and are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of their vision. They devote their money to the business (most of the great companies had someone that devoted their life savings in the beginning) their time, all their thoughts and energy. This saddens me because I wonder why every single pastor is not willing to do the same for their church or churches.
I am saddened because I read about how vision and mission drive the direction of these companies & these leaders. While I see so many churches being driven by tradition and “sacred cows.”
I am saddened because I read about leaders that are constantly looking to grow, to improve, to be the best in their field; yet so many pastors are content. They don’t read books, go to conferences, seek mentorship, look for the best in their fields to get better; so many are content with status quo & so many churches let them be, or don’t know that they deserve better!
All of this saddens me because we serve a cause much greater than any business, Jesus’. We have a power on our side much greater than any man made method or model, The Holy Spirit. We have a mission much more important than money, the Salvation of humanity!
We could learn a lot from our secular, business world counterparts, and every time I read a business book I learn much and I am grateful.
Here are some ideas I gleaned from the most recent book I partook of: “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos & the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone.
- Balance between the member & the not-yet member: Amazon’s passion is customer service. They are vigilant about retaining their committed customers (members), even willing to sacrifice revenue at times to avoid making the member (customer) feel unappreciated or uncomfortable. Yet, they never take their eye off their ultimate goal which is to win other people to their “family.” To create new “fans” of Amazon. They work to keep both of these goals in harmony with one another. I find that many churches struggle with the balance Amazon has seemed to achieve. In the larger churches I’ve worked at and been a part of I’ve found that they tend to be imbalanced towards the ability to gather and attract new people, all the while the already committed members are silently slinking out the back door without any real notice or fanfare. Because of our system in the North American Division and maybe even around the world we’re allowed even encouraged by the example of our World Church to inflate reality. We broadcast that our membership numbers in North America are 1.2 million members yet we know that truly only half, if even that attend church on a consistent basis. This creates a system where we care about the growth of that number, not the retention of that number. We never see the article on the cover of the Review, “Membership at 1.2 Million…But We Have No Idea Where 623,000 of Those Members Are.” So our larger churches a lot of them are like our organization. On the other hand I’ve worked at smaller churches that seem to enjoy their close knit of community so much that they don’t really have a great earnestness to attract new “customers.” New disrupts what is and disrupting what is, is tantamount to apostasy. And while they won’t brag about their numbers, they will brag about how they know everyones name in the church; of course you do it’s not hard to know 30, 40, even 75 names. Obviously both cases are not the universal absolute; I’ve seen large churches that are great at retention & small churches great at evangelism. But Amazon shows me how we all are better off with balance towards both!
- Word of Mouth Evangelism: Jeff Bezos’ goal is to one day be able to completely eliminate Amazon’s marketing department and just grow by word of mouth. In fact Bezos believes that the best “evangelism,” the best way for a company to grow is when the customer shares their experience with a non-member through word of mouth. The church needs to develop the same attitude. In fact Amazon is so committed to their committed customers with the belief this commitment will be rewarded with those people being personal evangelists for the company. Our churches and church members need to embrace this same idea as the best form of evangelism. Bring a friend to the “store” please!
- “Complaining is not a strategy” & Hard work is strategy: The former is a direct quote from Bezos, and I love it! Nothing changes with complaining! If someone wants a change they should apply the latter lesson from Amazon, “hard work is strategy.” If you want things to be different then they should work hard to be a part of the change they want to see. Oh how this could be learned in the church; less letters, less emails, less phone calls, more active engagement to strategically move things in a positive direction! This applies to Pastors as well, far too often we spend more time complaining about our bosses than really working for positive change. I’ve found that most folk I have worked for if they see a pastor working hard and committed to the growth of God’s Kingdom, then they’ll reward this and give greater ear to the ideas of those hard working pastors. “Complaining is not a strategy.”
- Innovate, Innovate, Innovate! : Normal human beings fear change. In church though a far greater fear should be stagnancy, and without change, which comes from innovation a stagnant and eventually a dead church will be the ultimate result! Innovation is not the creeping compromise that folk think it is. There were many that were not comfortable with the innovations that HMS Richards was initiating through his radio ministry Voice of Prophecy back in the day. There was an overall fear of technology and the potential evils of associating with the radio & eventually through George Vandeman the television mediums. You know who may be utilizing these mediums of technology most in 2014 within the Adventist Church? Groups like Amazing Facts & the 3ABN folk. Isn’t it funny, what was once thought as potential evil liberal compromise is now widely embraced, endorsed, and funded by those within our church that are perceived to be of the more conservative bent. Jeff Bezos said, “What is dangerous is to not evolve.” I would say to that a very loud “AMEN”! And I hope all the church echoes that “amen.”
- Imitate What Works: “We watch our competitors, learn from them, see the things that they were doing for customers and copy those things as much as we can.” -Bezos. Our church (Seventh-day Adventist) is far too scared of imitating the methodologies of those outside our own movement. If it is not challenging our theology & it is working elsewhere we should grab it and run with it! In our church we’ve incorporated many an idea that came from a business book I read or a church growth book I read from authors of another denomination. In no way has this watered down our theology, in fact what is most often communicated to me is that our church has become more (for lack of a better term) “conservative” in my tenure at this church. We don’t imitate theology, but we do imitate some methodologies, obviously within reason. We also try to learn from our fellow Adventists, another area I feel we have drastic deficiencies as a church. Sharing, receiving, and implementing the best practices even within Adventism.
- No One is More Important than the Vision: In Amazon’s culture what this means is that no one gets to keep their job simply because they were there from the beginning. No one gets to keep their job because it is going to cause tension to replace them. No one gets to keep their job for doing an adequate job. The vision rains supreme and if folk don’t want to run with the vision then the vision will move on without them! Many a church is hampered by a person that feels entitled to a position, entitled to be the road block to change. There is only one irreplaceable person at Amazon, Jeff Bezos; and there is only one irreplaceable person in the church and that is Jesus. Any pastor, any teacher, any administrator that is not charging ahead with the vision should be removed. Any elder, deacon, or treasurer that is not on board with the vision should be willing to step aside. This doesn’t mean that they see all eye to eye. But the overall vision and mission of Jesus “to seek & save the lost” if that is not embraced and pursued with reckless abandon then in the view of Amazon it is time for change. I think this view would move the church forward too.
- Take Little Steps Every Day to Get Better: I think in the church there are far too many “major” initiatives, I’ll include myself in that theory. In this book one of the ideas I appreciated was the idea of incremental changes made daily to try and get better, to try and be the best they could be. It hasn’t been the big moves we’ve seen like Kindle or Amazon Prime that have pushed Amazon to the top, but the daily unseen changes that have pushed Amazon up the retail mountain. Bezos demands of himself daily growth and expects nothing less of those around him. What would happen if every pastor, every conference administrator, every elder, every Bible Worker, every departmental director, every teacher, ever member said I want to learn one thing today that will help me to be a better witness for Jesus than I was yesterday. I think that would revolutionize the church a lot more than initiatives like “Let’s Talk” or even “Revival & Reformation.” These have there place but I fear they are too often strategies that help the membership to hide the fact that far too many are ok with status quo.
- It’s Okay to Be Misunderstood: I would love to see more pastors live by this principle. I think far too many of us worry about what others, primarily our church members think about us. We capitulate to the complainers. We don’t step out for fear of losing our job or our influence. Amazon has been misunderstood at the point of every major positive step they’ve ever taken. They’re okay with that. They’d rather be misunderstood than being bold for their cause. Pastors wouldn’t it be better for us to be misunderstood than to be stuck in the rut?! Now let me share one caveat; pastors, don’t use this as an excuse if everyone misunderstands you! If you look around and realize no one is following, it’s no longer about being misunderstood, its just about being a bad leader. But don’t back down to the few, run with the many even if it means, being misunderstood!
- “Make History!”: Jeff Bezos wants to “work hard, have fun, and make history.” I want to be a part of a history making movement. The church is of no value if it is not making history. In our world, in our communities, in the individual lives of our people and the people we are reaching.
These are some of the things I learned from the book, “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos & the Age of Amazon”
I hope they’ll help you in your ministry, in your church, in your life.