By John Wertz
As I was reading the USA Today on May 28, 2012, I came across an interesting article, “What small business can learn from Google” by Julie Clow.
She writes: “I learned core lessons at Google that transformed the way I look at problem solving and strategic thinking. There were statements that I heard early and often that guided decision-making at every level of the organization. These mantras are at the core of innovation for Google but translate readily to any business to create agility, employee engagement and ultimately, stronger business results.”
As I read the five core lessons she identified, it became obvious to me that they contain helpful advice not just for small businesses but also for congregations.
1) Launch and iterate. Clow notes that “Even the smartest of the hyper-educated Google leaders cannot predict which products and features will attract a sizable user base. Instead, they urge teams to launch quickly and iterate — in other words, stick with, and perfect, what’s working — based on what they learn from their users. … For a small business, this means trying out a lot of services, products, marketing, sales and other tactics in really small ways, gauging the success and then building on the ideas that work in reality.”
For congregations, this looks like a willingness to encourage people to try new ideas and explore new ministries. Instead of having a new idea run through a series of committees and approvals, simply allow the people interested in a ministry to give it a try. Create a small line in your ministry investment plan for future ministry and tap into that money to support these new ideas. Not every ministry will be a lasting success, but as God’s people use their gifts and passions for ministry, think of the powerful ways that they will make Christ known when one of those new ideas becomes a strong, healthy ministry.
2) Fail fast. “Failure is not a bad thing, but slow failure in the market is. Launch, iterate and declare the failures as quickly as you can. Most importantly, learn from those failures to help guide future efforts.”
Congregations need to have the confidence to admit that a new ministry isn’t working and move on to the next idea. As painful as it can be to acknowledge failure, continuing to prop up and support an unsuccessful ministry is poor stewardship and prevents us from learning valuable lessons from the experience.
3) Focus on the user. “Your customers or users should be your singular focus, always. A question I ask incessantly to maintain this focus is: ‘What problem are we trying to solve for our customers?’”
The question is not what can God’s people do for the church, but the question is what can the church do to support God’s people in their mission to share the good news of Jesus with the world? As congregations, we need to be focusing on the questions people are asking, on the ministries they are excited about, and on the gifts God has given them. Instead of worrying about what you should be doing as a congregation, build your ministry upon the strengths and gifts of the people with which God has blessed you.
4) Ask forgiveness, not permission. “This mantra was important to mobilize every Google employee in the company to do the things they felt were right without worrying about what approvals they needed to do it. The idea is to remove barriers and to empower employees to act quickly. Reward employees for taking initiative, and treat their missteps as any other failure — something to learn from, but not to dwell on. What is most important is they become stewards of your company to make the best decisions without seeking 100 approvals to do so.”
Jesus didn’t require the 70 that he sent out in groups of two to come back to him and ask permission before they shared teaching, healing and compassion with the community. Be open to the working of the Spirit in people’s lives. Teach about God’s love and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Trust God’s people to be faithful in their serving. Accept that not everything will be perfect. Know that excellent mistakes can lead to excellent learnings which can become the cornerstone of faithful ministry.
5) If you see a void, fill it. “This is my favorite lesson from Google. It gives explicit permission to employees and the expectation that, if something is broken, everyone is empowered and responsible to fix it.”
Expect members of the congregation to be involved. If individuals see a ministry possibility, invite them to gather two or three other people who are passionate about that opportunity and let them start to address the need. When the people closest to the ministry have the authority and permission to act, there is no limit to what God can accomplish through them.
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