In a recent blog, Matthew May tells the story of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson who was given the job of creating the first United States jet plane in 180 days. When Germany’s first jet fighter planes appeared in the skies over Europe in 1943, the U.S. War Department hired Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Johnson’s company, to do the job. Lockheed’s chief engineer, Johnson ran the company’s Lockheed’s innovative Advanced Development Programs for nearly 45 years, from its inception in 1943 to 1975. This division became known as the “skunk works” and operated under its own rules.
The blog post is based on May’s book, The Laws of Subtraction, in which he defines subtraction as “removing anything excessive, confusing, wasteful, unnatural, hazardous, hard to use or ugly . . . or the discipline to refrain from adding it in the first place.” The result is a more creative and productive workplace.
Every church needs a “skunk works,” its own research and development department that can work quickly and effectively, unfettered by bureaucratic controls or permission-giving gatekeepers. Kelly had fourteen guidelines for his operation. Let me suggest just a few for a church “skunk works” team.
First, the team should involve one professional staff member who serves as liaison to the church leadership rather than reporting to a committee or board. This minimizes outside interference. This staff person is also key to helping the team find the necessary funding for activities.
Second, the number of team members should be limited to no more than seven people. Recruit those who are creative, “out of the box” thinkers with a passion for God and a love for the church.
Third, the team should be open to evaluating and adopting “not invented here” ideas, training, and materials. In order to do this, they should be open to forming lineages both inside and outside the congregation. This may mean crossing denominational lines.
Fourth, someone on the team should keep good notes of discussion and decisions as a learning tool. Any activity or program carried out by the team should be thoroughly evaluated even if it will never be attempted again.
Fifth, the team must give itself permission to dream big and think about doing things that the church has never done before.
Sound impossible? No, it can be done, but not every church has the desire or the will to provide the freedom for it to happen.