Why have we been blessed with the ability to be alive? Or, perhaps better yet, what is our purpose on Earth? Two thousand years ago a Pharisee who was an expert in the law tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” To which Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The primary concern of the Church today should be to fulfill these two commandments, as it goes about fulfilling the great commission. There’s been debate regarding the right way to go about attempting such a task. Surely we can all agree that none of us have this ministry thing totally figured out. For those looking to improve their mission, it might be helpful to step outside of a ministry context. The remainder of this study is such an attempt. Here you will find a brief examination of the business concepts of quality and continuous innovation and a few ways churches can apply them to better serve their community and Christ.
Meet Dr. Deming
A household name in Japan but scarcely known in the United States, his own country, Dr. W. Edwards Deming was a prime catalyst behind the incredible success of Japanese industry and is regarded as one of the greatest organizational management scholars of all time. Perhaps Deming’s teachings and philosophy are best illustrated by examining the results they produced after they were adopted by Japanese industry:
Ford Motor Company was simultaneously manufacturing a car model with transmissions made in Japan and the United States. Soon after the car model was on the market, Ford customers were requesting the model with the Japanese transmission over the U.S.-made transmission, and they were willing to wait for the Japanese model. As both transmissions were made to the same specifications, Ford engineers could not understand the customer preference for the model with Japanese transmission. Finally, Ford engineers decided to take apart the two different transmissions. The American-made car parts were all within specified tolerance levels. On the other hand, the Japanese car parts were virtually identical to each other, and much closer to the nominal values for the parts – e.g., if a part was supposed to be one foot long, plus or minus 1/8 of an inch, then the Japanese parts were all within 1/16 of an inch. This made the Japanese cars run more smoothly and customers experienced fewer problems. Engineers at Ford could not understand how this was done until they met Deming.
Focus on Quality, Not Costs
Deming taught that by adopting appropriate principles of management, organizations can increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs (e.g. by reducing waste, rework, staff attrition and litigation while increasing customer loyalty). The key is to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits and pieces.
In the 1970s, Deming’s philosophy was summarized by some of his Japanese proponents with the following ‘a’-versus-’b’ comparison: (a) When people and organizations focus primarily on quality, quality tends to increase and costs fall over time. (b) However, when people and organizations focus primarily on costs, costs tend to rise and quality declines over time.
Innovation or Death
Christopher Freeman, English economist and business cycle theorist, once quipped, “Not to innovate is to die.” The rapidly increasing global competition that most industries have been facing recently, associated with a whirlwind of technological change and product variety proliferation, has led to a scenario in which organizations must continuously improve in order to remain competitive. Take note of the key for Deming stated previously – continual improvement. If the desire is continued success, perhaps a bit of bullying is in order – innovate, innovate, improve quality, innovate and do it some more or else!
Focus on Customers, Not Shareholders
Firms like Apple have been able to achieve continuous innovation and customer delight by setting aside maximizing shareholder value. As James Allworth, author and former Apple strategist explains, “They can do it because Apple hasn’t optimized its organization to maximize profit. Instead, it has made the creation of value for customers its priority. When you do this, the fear of cannibalization or disruption of one’s self just melts away. In fact, when your mission is based around creating customer value, around creating great products, cannibalization and disruption aren’t “bad things” to be avoided. They’re things you actually strive for – because they let you improve the outcome for your customer.”
Churches can apply the principles of quality and continuous innovation in an effort to better serve their community and reach more for Christ in the following ways:
Strive for quality. When businesses focus less on cost and more on quality they are taking a leap of faith, in a sense. They must believe that increased costs in the short term will produce better products and a higher return in the future. Churches can do this as well by devoting extra to their community service initiatives, facilities and worship services. These “products” will then be better received and in turn market themselves. But, according to Deming’s theory, if churches focus on cutting costs then the quality of their “products” will decline over time.
Maintain an openness to change. Ted Levitt, American economist and professor at Harvard Business School, stated “Just as energy is the basis of life itself, and ideas the source of innovation, so is innovation the vital spark of all human change, improvement and progress.” Church leaders need to instill the philosophy that change is a good thing in their congregation and do so in leading by example. Start a new community service project, partner with other local churches, become more active in missions, do something different.
Focus on love and service, not happiness. Companies that are able to achieve continuous innovation do so by focusing on their customers. Churches should focus their efforts on love and service as opposed to simply making their congregants happy. Jesus’ call to take up one’s cross and follow Him isn’t one of physical safety and comfort, but one of sacrifice. Sharing Christ’s name in your identity (i.e. being called a Christian) is more than attending church on Sunday, as James 1:27 states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Shifting to this philosophy in ministry will naturally produce success and favor, and a hurting world could certainly use more love and service.
This study is brief and there are likely loads of additional applications. Sound off in the comments if you have one.[toggle title="References"]
Aguayo, Rafael (1991). Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese About Quality. Fireside. pp. 40–41.
Hawles, Terry. “Dr. Deming’s Management Training.” Dharma Haven. http://www.dharma-haven.org/five-havens/deming.htm (accessed November 12, 2012).[/toggle]