Monday, May 25, 2009

A Crossroads of Crisis and Opportunity

As ministries, we have come to a crossroads of crisis and opportunity. The economy and the culture have changed the rules and we have the great privilege of asking God how He would have us respond. What we do at this crossroad will dictate our future and our very survival in many cases. Our instinct as conservative, low-risk organizations will be to pull back, cut our losses and hunker down.

I believe that it would be a mistake to fall into that frame of mind. I believe that the only ones that will survive this troubled time will be those that:
1. Know what they are best at
2. Are engaging their advocates/recipients in transformational ways
3. Have a vision for what the world will look like when we rebound from the crisis

If we can engage our advocates and recipients with what we are best at with a vision for our place in a world recovering from crisis, then we can use that momentum to create action plans.

As I have been processing this, I went to Fast Company’s “Fast 50”. This is an interactive list of the 50 most innovative companies. I studied the top 20 of these companies, here is what I learned:
  • The most innovative organizations are, at their highest levels, defined by innovation in technology – whether they sell shoes (Zappos), megawatts of electricity (NextEra Energy) or computers (HP).
  • The reality that products and services require mobility oriented around the consumer drive these companies. (i.e. Pure Digital Technologies’ Flip Camera)
  • Social responsibility is evident throughout these organizations and it manifests itself in authentic ways based on what these organizations care about. (i.e. Gilead Sciences’ Access program to provide key drugs to poor countries)
  • These companies have perfected the art of knowing the needs of their customer/audience and meeting it in creative, practical, stylish ways. (i.e. Ideo’s pursuit of a “human centered methodology”)
  • At their core, the most innovative organizations have a “participatory DNA”. This means that they have created their organizations so that innovation will bubble up. Staff and customers will be a part of their process/products, and decisions are made dynamically and in a distributed way. (i.e. Team Obama, Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems and Hulu)

Challenging Implications for Ministries:

  • Technology: In the early days missions were extremely technology driven as they used every tool to overcome huge obstacles. But we have given this distinctive up and now most of our core processes/services/products are not driven by innovative technology.
  • Mobility: We have fared better with mobility. Because our work and the geopolitical situations are always changing we have become effective at making our solutions mobile. With more technology we could be even more mobile.
  • Green (Social Responsibility): Because we have a Kingdom focus that has traditionally centered on Eternal things rather than bettering life in this world, we are very weak here. That in itself is not bad because we have set our sites on bringing people into God's Kingdom. However, in order to speak to the coming “green” generation we must put our Kingdom work into language understood by a generation of people that will be redefined by social/environmental responsibility.
  • Consumer Focus: This item is the greatest single threat to the survival of many ministries. At the core of our Christian beliefs is that we should be God-centered and focused on a life of service and sacrifice. In an increasingly post-Christian / self-centered world, we will find ourselves increasingly at odds with what the marketing, fundraising, promotions experts tell us to do. We will be forced to make very difficult choices between transactional success and transformational focus. What I mean by this is that the realities of an overcrowded nonprofit marketplace will force us to either try and compete for consumers by appealing to their needs (whether we agree with them or not) or we will try to engage consumers and help to raise their sites beyond themselves and to the needs of others based on our beliefs and convictions.
  • Participatory DNA: Currently many ministries do not have a participatory DNA as organizations. Because of hierarchical structures, low tolerance for ambiguity, and a “limited good” mentality internally, we are not able to give our staff, donors, partners or ministry recipients the ability to participate significantly in who we are and what we will become.

These are very quick commentaries on issues that have many facets, reasons and potential solutions. The purpose of this blog posting is not to lay them out in the greatest detail or to provide extensive ideas on how to fix them. My main purpose is to show some of the key factors that are helping secular organizations lead the way in innovation and then contrast them with the realities we face in Christian nonprofits. Our survival depends on us looking at reality and then asking God how He might allow us to make a difference.


Samuel said...


Excellent post!

You are right many are willing to hunker down, and not-for-profits usually survive the ebb and flow for a long time in these type of times. Though this clearly might not be the best way of looking at stewardship.

Two other options at the crossroads of crisis and opportunities are: mergers, and sunset.

Just as a participatory DNA is difficult for the current groupings of organizations, mergers can be equally difficult. However, merger to achieve size and efficiencies might be necessary when dealing with the level of regulatory requirements that is demanded for non-profits.

One other option is a 'sunset' for the organization. No shame in that! (Might even be innovative.) Many organizations have served its purposes well, for its time. To make the difficult decisions to exit might be the very best for the Kingdom.

robhoskins said...


Great stuff, thanks for this wonderful reminder, especially the need to have innovation bubble up from the grassroots. Good challenge that we will try and embrace at OneHope.


Jon and Mindy Hirst said...


Thanks for the response. I am so glad you brought up these two options. Mergers are a key because they allow organizations who are struggling to come together and rethink ministry. I think one of the great challenges however is finding organizations with compatible DNA - so many mergers end in bitterness and a destruction of both companies.

I love the term "sunset" Someone said that when an organization celebrates its 50th anniversary, they should throw a big party and then close the doors. In the West we believe that closing an organization is always a bad thing, but in many cases it may be just the right thing. The key is this question, "Has God accomplished what He wanted with my effort." Blessings

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...


Glad it was helpful. Yes, the organization that allows ideas to come from those they are serving is one that knows how to be relevant and effective.

Blessings to you and OneHope as you innovate!