Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Love…A Modest Proposal

After hearing Jim Collins speak recently about the Hedgehog Principle, I have been reflecting almost constantly upon this simple concept and its value to faith based organizations. The Hedgehog Principle, to review, is:

The essential strategic difference between the good-to-great and comparison companies lay in two fundamental distinctions. First, the good-to-great companies founded their strategies on deep understanding along three key dimensions—what we came to call the three circles. Second, the good-to-great companies translated that understanding into a simple, crystalline concept that guided all their efforts—hence the term Hedgehog Concept.

More precisely, a Hedgehog Concept is a simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following three circles:

1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at)? This discerning standard goes far beyond core competence. Just because you possess a core competence doesn’t necessarily mean you can be the best in the world at it. Conversely, what you can be the best at might not even be something in which you are currently engaged.

2. What drives your economic engine? All the good-to-great companies attained piercing insight into how to most effectively generate sustained and robust cash flow and profitability. In particular, they discovered the single denominator—profit per x—that had the greatest impact on their economics. (It would be cash flow per x in the social sector.)

3. What you are deeply passionate about?. The good-to-great companies focused on those activities that ignited their passion. The idea here is not to stimulate passion but to discover what makes you passionate.

(from Jim Collins' website)

How does this relate to work that is faith based? I believe that the reason so many faith based organizations, including the one I serve, are struggling is because they have lost their “hedgehog.” They have forgotten the one thing that can truly drive them, the central and most important reason for their existence. They have fallen victim to Revelation 2:4 means of operation and lost “their first love.”

In the case of the organization I serve, in 1913 the Methodist Church built an assembly center. Essentially it was just a large, round, outdoor arena to hold missionary and revival type services. While there was the sale of small lots for summer cottages to help finance the building and land purchase, the center of all activity was the ministry done at what would become Stuart Auditorium. The driving force behind the creation of the organization was ministry, everything else, including the construction of inns, lodges, and hotels were designed to support the ministry events and activities. As a matter of fact, most people stayed in hotels and homes in Waynesville and made the daily commute on the train that ran between Lake Junaluska and the small mountain town. Somewhere along the way, the focus changed.

Today ministry is not the driving force but a secondary support venue to increase lodging business. The motels, inns, and lodges have become the primary focus and driving engine of the organization. Ministry events have been reduced to a means to put “heads in beds,” to quote a commonly used term on the campus. The problem is that this is in direct violation of the “hedgehog principle.” Unless there is a significant financial investment our motels and lodging will never be the thing that this organization can be “the best in the world” at. Within just a few moments there are quaint Bed and Breakfasts, cozy mountain inns and cabins, and hotels with high thread count sheets and multiple amenities at significantly less costs per night for the average family. While lodging is the driving revenue engine, it does not seem to be the activity that can generate passion and fuel to drive the overall organization.

If I were to offer my modest proposal upon the future direction, they would be three-fold. First we should continue with the events that are making the most impact upon The United Methodist Church. Secondly we would put a renewed focus and investment upon creating high quality, impactful events that encourage discipleship decisions, train leaders, and transform congregations, primarily United Methodist ones. Lastly we would concentrate our focus upon meeting the needs of our parent organization, The United Methodist Church. I believe with this strategy we could re-capture the hearts and minds of those within The United Methodist Church who have abandoned Lake Junaluska as an obsolete and irrelevant ministry organization.

First and foremost we must continue with the vital ministries and events that have made Lake Junaluska a place of spiritual renewal and faith commitment for thousands of people each year. Last summer alone during times of testimonies at summer youth events several youth workers commented on how those events had saved their marriages, renewed their call, and encouraged their hearts. Youth stood up and spoke of their decision to invite Christ in, to renew their faith, and more than 150 decided to investigate pursuing ministry as their primary profession. This does not mean that some events will not be eliminated. Each event must be evaluated to determine if it has lived out its effectiveness, and if so, discontinued so that from this death new life can spring forth. Some events need a complete overhaul with a focus upon building relationships with attendees, creating networking opportunities, and taking greater care to create the appropriate environment to facilitate its pedagogical and spiritual objectives. Continuing these events will prove to be the foundation upon which the future is built.

Secondly, there must be the intentional creation of high quality, impactful events particularly aimed at the issues and struggles facing The United Methodist Church. Each week The United Methodist Church loses 1,500 members across the United States. Churches are faced with an emerging culture beyond their ability to understand, an aging membership, and a loss of an entire generation. Lake Junaluska is uniquely positioned to pull together prophetic voices to speak to each of these issues. We have the ability to draw upon the historical resources of The World Methodist Museum, as well as the evangelistic resources provided by having The Foundation for Evangelism situated upon the grounds of Lake Junaluska. These events must include voices from nationally known leaders and speakers, include worship that renews the heart, and music that stirs the soul. No longer are “talking head” events what connect with the learners and leaders in today’s congregations. The event must also be an experience. All the senses need to be utilized, the participants must be “surprised and delighted,” to use Starbucks’ phrase, with all that they encounter. Details must be attended to, transitions must be smooth, hosts must be engaging, and information must be cutting edge and state of the art. Only then can the impact of these events reach a tipping point where they are able to be the “hedgehog” that drives the ministry.

Lastly, Lake Junaluska must concentrate its efforts on the people it was created and designed to serve, the people of The United Methodist Church. Does this mean that we will be exclusive and turn those away from other faith traditions? Of course not. But, as Yogi Berra once said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll probably miss.” By concentrating our event design, marketing strategy and ministry focus upon those who we are best able to serve; we will build bridges to local congregations and renew a once loyal following of the faithful, or as Seth Godin calls them, create a tribe. A tribe is a group of engaged individuals, focused upon a single idea, organization or product, lead by a leader, and radically committed to that idea, organization or product to the point where they become “customer evangelists.” Once the tribe is created, every marketing dollar multiplies. Every encounter energizes the base of the committed.

I am a theologian, not a business person. I do not know all of the answers, but I do know what Einstein said, “"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." What I have proposed is currently only an intellectual exercise that allows me to process what I think, observe, and feel about the future of Lake Junaluska, and faith based organizations as a whole. I do know that we must return to our “first love,” that we must renew our hearts for ministry that is theologically grounded in United Methodist doctrine, that is culturally relevant, that is practical for application is struggling local churches , that is empowered by the Spirit and the sacrament, and that is biblically centered. These should be the values by which we measure all that we endeavor to undertake. This is my modest proposal. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Reverend Marty Cauley

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