Tim Stevens: Embracing the Pain of Growth

Fairness Is Overrated

Fairness Is Overrated

A pastor asked me to talk to his staff and answer this question: “If our church is going to double in the next two years [from five hundred to a thousand], what will it take?” The same question might be asked from a business leader: “If we want to double sales in the next two years, what will it take?” This is what I shared:

  1. Some of you won’t have as much access to the senior leader. This has to be okay with you.
    Are you more committed to maintaining the tight-knit staff size and your proximity to the pastor or CEO? Or are you more committed to the organization growing?
  2. Some of you are doing okay as leaders in your organization today, but it’s possible that what you are currently doing won’t cut it when you have doubled in size. You need to be willing to step into another role.
    Are you more committed to keeping your position and title? Or are you more committed to the growth of your business or church?
  3. You will need to anticipate the strain and pressure that is coming before anyone actually feels it. As the leaders, you need to be looking ahead, seeing what is around the next corner.
    Are you comfortable? If so, you probably aren’t anticipating growth adequately.
  4. You will have to be as willing to stop stuff as you are to start stuff.
    What are you doing that takes time and energy and diverts your focus? What has God uniquely gifted your team to do where you should put more focus?
  5. You will have to drive up the level of excellence. When people walk up to a fair booth to buy food, they have one expectation of service and quality. At McDonald’s, it’s another level. And when they walk into Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, it’s yet another level. As you grow, so will the expectations of your guests.
    What are you doing right now that would not be considered excellent if you were an entity twice your current size?
  6. You have to spend money on infrastructures like computers, data-management software, and staff to develop and run systems.
    What systems do you have right now that aren’t broken yet but are showing signs of strain?

I liked the question this leader was asking. He was basically saying, “How do we prepare for growth?” Someone told me years ago, “If you want to grow, you always need to act like you are twice the size you currently are.” It was good advice.

The Dangers of Growth

But growth is a two-sided coin. Many times, when we are growing, we get lazy. When things are going really well in the organization, we can put it on cruise control. When that happens:

  • We don’t pay attention to mission drift that is happening in individuals or even entire departments.
  • We don’t heed warning signs that are all too obvious later when looking in the rearview mirror.
  • We don’t ask enough questions.
  • We rush spending and hiring decisions.
  • We delay necessary firing decisions.
  • We feel invincible. So we reject all criticism, even if we know there is a kernel of truth included.
  • We often neglect important relationships. Since velocity and intimacy are enemies, many times a fast-growing organization can result in broken relationships.
  • We stop being innovative. Why? Because we don’t need to innovate. Growth is happening without it.

In an article in Fast Company magazine, Dan Heath and Chip Heath put it this way: “When you’re getting rich, it’s pretty easy to soothe the ol’ gut. If you need a rationalization, your mind will provide one.”1

For a church, you may not be getting rich, but your numbers might be trending upward. Attendance is increasing year after year, offerings are going up, and momentum is on your side.

I’ve been there. For the first twenty years at Granger, we averaged 23 percent growth year after year. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now I can see clearly how I sometimes fell into these traps.

It is important to consider what you really believe about growth. Is your team committed to the pain that comes from getting your church or business to the next level?