Communicator, author, and pastor, ANDY STANLEY founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries in 1995. Today, NPM is comprised of six churches in the Atlanta area and a network of 50 churches around the globe, collectively serving nearly 90,000 people weekly. A survey of U.S. pastors in Outreach Magazine identified Andy Stanley as one of the top 10 most influential living pastors in America.
After 20 years at North Point and reflecting on phenomenal growth that has slowed down, Andy asked this question of his leaders:
If we had it to do all over again, what would we do all over again?
Wrestling to answer this question led to considering what the rapid, early growth was all about. Stanley's conclusion was: We had a Uniquely Better product.
- When North Point began 20+ years ago, no one in Atlanta was doing what North Point was doing. They had a unique product. It was stand alone.
- Considering how they were better in their uniqueness was about the fact that no one else was "doing church" in the same way. So, whatever they did in those early years of being unique was awesome - and people responded.
- This is certainly true of GCC as well. 30 years ago no one else was "doing church" like we were. It was Unique and Uniquely Better.
Today, Stanley noted, "that uniqueness is gone. All of our churches look like a music venue."
- It is gone for North Point and it is gone for GCC. We are no longer Uniquely Better.
Stanley observed that every industry has a prevailing model, and it is based on assumptions that are alive and active. Because of this organizations get stuck. And things continue as they always have. HOWEVER, there is hope. There is a Uniquely Better somewhere. And someone - not the leader - is messing with the rules of the prevailing model. Challenging assumptions. Discovering or creating the next Uniquely Better.
Even though the leaders are not likely to be the ones to discover or create the Uniquely Better product, they have a significant role to play. The leader must be able to recognize and capture the Uniquely Better product that someone else is discovering.
Our best hope and responsibility as leaders is to create a culture that, regardless of what's being done now, recognizes and embraces, rather than resists, the next uniquely better.
Andy offered 4 ways leaders create such a culture:
1. Be a student, not a critic. Cannot have our mind made up, feet planted, proof-texting to affirm what we already know. We must refuse to criticize something we don't understand. We naturally resist things that we don't understand and can't control. When we stop learning, we stop leading. The next generation product and idea hardly ever comes from the past generation. Pay attention to family, college, students and kids' ministries. The interns in our businesses and churches will have the next Uniquely Better idea. We must develop a culture that recognizes IT when it comes.
2. Keep your eyes and your mind open. Listen to outsiders, listen to outsiders, listen to outsiders. Outsiders are not bound by our assumptions. We too easily and quickly declare: "that won't work, because... [insert assumption.]"
Close-minded leaders close minds. If you shut your eyes and your mind, you will close the eyes of the people around you. They will stop having new and good ideas... and when they do, they will not bring the idea to you.
- How do we respond to staff who make suggestions based on what they've observed in other organizations? Our response is quickly - "they're not us." At that point we're a critic that shuts down those who are still open to learning.
- When was the last time your organization embraced a big idea that wasn't your idea.
- When was the last time you weren't sure about the initiative but signed off on it anyway?
"We must pay attention to the frontiers of our ignorance." - Sam Harris
'You must be more curious about what there is to learn, than what you already know." - Andy Stanley
3. Replace "how?" with "wow!" The new idea dies at the How. You must learn to Wow ideas to life, rather than How them to death. Nothing is gained by not knowing what your people are dreaming about? What do we lose by not knowing... we lose the next great idea.
Your greatest contribution may not be something you do, but someone you raise. Be WOW parents, not parents who how them to death.
4. Ask the Uniquely Better questions.
- Is this unique?
- What would make this unique?
- Is it better?
- Is it better...really?
I resonate with Stanley's challenge that I will likely not have the next Uniquely Better idea. I admit: I want to be the ONE who creates it. I want to be recognized, applauded and responsible for the "Next." But I'm not. And I likely will not be.
As I'm discovering there is way more to learn than what I already know, it is NOT a matter of merely learning more in addition to what I know. Rather, learning what I do not yet know most often messes with what I believe I already know.
Learning messes with assumptions I've used as foundational truths. Learning means taking the risk to be open; to be wrong; to give someone else credit. Learning means I may live in a space of not knowing what I thought I knew... and not certain of what there is to learn next.
I want to live in and cultivate this kind of culture. A culture that's not afraid to admit past successes are past. A culture that's not threatened by asking questions - of the past, of process, of motives, of scripture, of orthodoxy - in order to learn and grow.
What about you? What challenged you about Andy's talk? What's messing with your certainty? What's challenging you to learn in new and open ways?