Good to Great

August 30, 2006 by

Good to Great by Jim CollinsCan a good company become a great company? And if so, how? That’s the premise of Jim Collins’ Good to Great, and he answers that question with five years worth of research. He looked at companies that were doing good for a while (at least 15 years) and then something changed and they did great for a while (at least 15 more years). He rigorously studied those companies and distilled a few common lessons that can be applied to any organization.

And if it all sounds a little too business oriented, then you should check out the mini-sequel, Good to Great and the Social Sectors. The lesson there is that all the same lessons apply to non-profits (including churches) because they are lessons in how to be great, not lessons in how to do business.

A quick overview of Collins’ lessons:

  1. Level 5 Leadership – Contrary to popular opinion, truly great leaders don’t have high profiles and big personalities. Collins created a leadership hierarchy, with 5 at the top, and those type of leaders are humble, reserved, shy. They don’t showboat, they don’t want the credit–they just want to get the job done. They are servants, truly focused on growing the organization, not themselves. It’s an interesting description, especially considering the landscape of high profile pastors.
  2. First Who… Then What – Great companies first get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus, and then figure out where they’re going. Rather than decide on your vision and then find people to fulfill it, find amazing people and then develop your vision together. This one strikes me as one of the hardest to achieve–it seems so backwards to put such trust in people.
  3. Confront the Brutal Facts – Great organizations confronted the difficult facts. If your church wants to be great you can’t ignore the fact that 88% of youth group members don’t attend church after graduation. You can’t ignore that the churches don’t have the same place in society they once did. The facts may be overwhelming, but the only way to carry on is to deal with them.
  4. The Hedgehog Concept – In a nutshell this is about figuring out what you’re good at and doing it. Not every church is the same and some churches are better at some things than others. The wisdom here is to not be all things to all people, but to figure out what group of people your church can reach that no one else can and go after them.
  5. A Culture of Discipline – Discipline is the key to avoiding hierarchy, bureaucracy and excessive control. A disciplined staff gets things done and there’s less management required.
  6. Technology Accelerators – Great organizations know that technology itself never makes anything great. It’s the careful use of technology that can make a difference. Great churches need to figure out how select technologies can help them, and put those technologies to work. It’s about putting a tool to work, not admiring the tool.
  7. The Flywheel – This is my favorite lesson. No one action made any of the companies Collins studied great. There was no brilliant idea that started it all. It was 1,000 brilliant ideas. It was a ton of consistent effort of pushing the flywheel, again and again and again before it finally built up enough momentum and started to take off. You have to keep at it. And it will probably take years.

That’s the quick and dirty overview. It’s a powerful insight into what it takes to make any organization great. Of course it’s not easy. It takes a lot of clear thinking, a lot of bold decisions, and a ton of hard work over time.

Once you’ve read Good to Great and are trying to figure out what it means for your church, you should really read Good to Great and the Social Sectors. It covers everything from how to determine “great” without business metrics to working within the power structure of a non-profit. And the bonus is it’s a breezy 35 pages.

The bottom line is that it’s good wisdom for the church. We weren’t called to merely exist, we were called to do amazing things. That requires greatness. Not for our own glory, but for the glory of our cause.

Update: And for some very specific application to the church, check out the Leadership Journal interview with Jim Collins.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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7 Responses to “Good to Great”

  • Mike M
    August 30, 2006

    If you’re interested in this book, then you should definately take a look at Breakout Churches by Dr. Thom Ranier. It takes the same principles from Good to Great and applies them to churches that have broken out of a decline and experienced growth. He bases his research and theories on Jim Collins book. I highly recommend it and his latest book, Simple Church.

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  • Gene Mason
    August 31, 2006

    I’m in the middle of “Simple Church” right now. It’s excellent. “Breakout Churches” is also excellent. I’d also recommend another older book by Rainer, “Suprising Insights From the Unchurched.” One interesting point from that book–doctrine, not music or preaching style, plays the largest role in the decision-making of adults seeking a church. Hmm…

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  • Keith Mohr
    September 6, 2006

    G2G is a great book!
    Love the Momentum thing..crankling the flywheel.. thats key.. cranking it up and being willing to sweat..
    Another great book is “The Tipping Point”
    Steven Covey’s book “The 8th Habit” is also excellent!
    Finding your voice and helping others find theres..

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  • Arthur Brown
    September 13, 2006

    If you like this book, I HIGHLY recommend you get Chip Ingram’s series Good To Great In God’s Eyes. He’s the president of Walk Thru The BIble and he has the radio show Living On The Edge.

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  • Doug Roe
    November 21, 2006

    I have applied the good to great principles along with the flywheel principle and hedgehog. They really work and help work the way out of problems. 2006 was a really tough year but the hedgehog mentality helped. For info only: I pastor a large growing church in Ohio and recomend Good to Great. BTY: there is a shorter Good to Great for social organizations that is worth the read and study. Doug

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  • Greg
    September 11, 2007

    Jim Collins talks about his study of highly successful companies – but does he go into detail about the ethical practices of the companies that he observed? Is Wal-Mart a successful case-study? What about IBM? Coca-Cola? This seems more like motivational rhetoric geared towards a business crowd of middle managers and uncertain leaders.
    If you need inspiration, this type of literature is great. If you need guidance, look within yourself. Yes, the church is both a business and a social entity, but this isn’t a “chicken-before-the-egg” type question – it’s a social entity first, and a business second.

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  • Advisor
    September 25, 2010

    After our church implemented g2g principles we have found that they don’t transfer well in a church setting. Furthermore, I am not sure the g2g priciples were ever supposed to be implemented as presented. The getting the right people on the bus principle has been a disaster. We have found that often times the bus driver needs to be replaced and that the bus is headed in the wrong direction.
    The book is food for thought but I wouldn’t digest much.

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