In Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team sought out companies that moved from being good at what they were doing to becoming truly great. They pointed out that “Good is the enemy of the great.” In other words, people will praise your organization for providing quality but not exceptional products (or programs or services). People have been abused so long by organizations that they are satisfied with good but not exceptional service. They don’t expect anything to be “great.” Why take the risk to move to the next level when you already have acceptable results?
I have thought recently about how many good churches there are. These congregations provide solid preaching, well-planned worship, comprehensive Christian education, competent pastoral care, and helpful ministries, but they are not exceptional. They are shackled by their own expectations of what church ought to be and limited in their Kingdom vision. What keeps them from being great?
Good churches are satisfied with the acceptable rather than the exceptional. They do what is necessary to “cover all the bases” so that the community will think well of them but they rarely are willing to go to the next level and provide something that is truly exceptional.
Good churches tend to major on minor issues. They are very concerned that things be done correctly whether those things are important or not. They major on minors.
Good churches value security over service. They have a low level of risk tolerance, so they are unwilling to try anything that may result in criticism from within the congregation or from the outside community.
Good churches are more concerned about maintenance than mission. They would rather take care of what they already have than reach out to embrace the unfamiliar, fearing embarrassment or uncertainty and possible inconvenience.
Good churches would rather invest in programs than in people. They have the mindset that the right program will answer all their problems, so they sell their members on programs rather than asking members what they need in order to fulfill God’s calling in their lives.
Good churches prefer to stay with the familiar rather than embrace innovation. When one is innovative, there is always the possibility of failure and good churches cannot tolerate failure.
Good churches are too easily distracted. Every immediate difficulty becomes a major problem, so they take their eyes off what is best and simply settle for maintaining what is good. They are unwilling to “stay the course.”
My friend Bo Prosser has noted, “Very few churches will thrive in the 21st century because we are too nice to sweat, too proud to cry, too stubborn to change, too sophisticated to laugh, and too busy to celebrate.” Just being good will not further the work of the Kingdom of God. Unless we loosen up and respond to the leadership of the Spirit of God, we will always be good churches but never great ones.
(This is an update of a post that was originally published July 28, 2011.)