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September 7, 2010

Tom Arthur: "Good to Great" not so great

I’m about a decade behind the trends.  I only recently read the 2001 “classic” leadership book by Jim Collins, “ Good to Great.” I’d heard so much about this book that I felt it was important to read just to be able to speak the language of those who lead me. I asked around my own church and found that our leadership team also got swept up in “Good to Great” mania of ‘01.  They talked about their “hedgehog” ministry. They discussed “Level 5 Leadership” and how it applied to our church. Turning to it I could see why. I was quickly swept up in its power, especially its research. This gave the book a kind of air of scientific impenetrability. 

But reading Collins for the first time in the context of the Great Recession changed how I read it. Ten years out, I could see cracks in the research. When Collin’s research team praises companies that have since gone under, the most egregious being Circuit City, I begin to ask questions about some of the other claims made in the book. It’s not that there aren’t good things in it -- I appreciated the focus on humility of Level 5 leaders -- but the way these kinds of concepts get translated into the church often misses that very same humility. For example, how can we build churches that don’t just sustain a fifteen year good-to-great transition but last as long as the two millennia of the Christian Church itself?

Recently I read in Time about Haiti’s deteriorating gingerbread houses, built during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and how despite their outer decay they withstood the massive earthquake that rocked the country and flattened so many other structures.  They withstood the devastation because they were built with a hard-earned communal wisdom about how to withstand hurricanes and last for the long-haul.  Architects and builders are now looking to the still-standing “decaying” houses of the past to rebuild for Haiti’s future.  They may be decaying, but they’re at least still standing, which is more than can be said for the short-sighted concrete structures that lay in ruins.

All this makes me feel a little bit better about being the second pastor of a church-plant of the UnitedMethodistChurch, a denomination that is certainly decaying over time.  There are several other newer, bigger and flashier churches standing proud and tall around our little church-plant. But what will they look like when all hell breaks loose and the next spiritual earthquake hits our neighborhood and there isn’t any extended communal wisdom and connection that lasts longer than the fifteen years of a good-to-great transition?  As Ed Stetzer has recently written, the old decaying bones of this denomination do still have life. 

None of this is to say that church plants must look exactly like the UMC churches planted in the late 1800s and early 1900s hey-day of American Methodism.  The new construction in Haiti doesn’t have to look just like the gingerbread houses of yesteryear.  Colors might be different.  Individual accents might change.  Decorative features can shift with time.  But those who plan the inner structure of new buildings have a lot to learn from the inner structure of these old long-standing buildings.  So too do the church-planters of today have something to learn from “decaying” denominations like mine.

Tom Arthur is pastor of Sycamore Creek United Methodist Church in Lansing, Michigan.


I like the progression of

I like the progression of Collins' titles - "Good to Great" (2001), "Built to Last" (2004), and "How the Mighty Fall" (2009).

That said, I hear in your piece a question about what the church can learn from the Great Recession, which is really interesting. My hope is that we might be able to lift our eyes from immediate pressing challenges (like quarterly financial reports) and learn a whole host of lessons from this turbulent season about what endures and what does not.


I haven't read "Good to Great" but the title always seemed to fly in the face of Voltaire's famous maxim "The perfect is the enemy of the good" which seems more true.

Tom Arthur: "Good to Great" not so great

I haven't read "Good To Great", so I have to ask, what is it all about?

The only reference I can think of right now is what Jesus said about being "good" and what it really means to want tob be "greatest in the kingdom". Servant of all was Jesus' answer. Was that Collins' answer?

Just wondering,


I read both "Built to Last"

I read both "Built to Last" and "Good to Great." Both were most helpful contributions to my development as a leader in the church. In "Built to Last",for instance,Collins argues for the value of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG's)in organizations. I found the concept helpful as our church launched ambitious ministries for under-resourced children and families in our community. Just my two cents.

Good to Great in Context

In today’s economic climate, it may be prudent to ask what went wrong with some of the companies cited in Jim Collins’ research; but let’s not be too quick to dismiss the wisdom of Good to Great. We who live in the world of faith and theology know better than anyone that the value of a text depends, at least in part, on an understanding of its context.

In the early 1990s, Collins and co-author Jerry Porras completed a study of visionary companies – exceptional organizations that set new standards for their industries and endured for more than 40 years. Built to Last, published in 1994, summarized their research and shared insights that readers soon found useful in the nonprofit world, and in their personal and professional lives as well. Collins and Porras attracted serious attention among church leaders with the publication of “Building Your Company’s Vision” in the September-October 1996 issue of Harvard Business Review (and as a new chapter in later editions of Built to Last). Their definition of vision as the fusion of core ideology (values and purpose) and a clearly envisioned future inspired some to ask how church mission statements could be reframed to capture the power of “vision-level” thinking; but more often than not, efforts to do so led to great frustration.

Identifying core ideology is no great challenge for the church, but envisioning our future can be problematic. New church plants and congregations with entrepreneurial leadership may have an advantage. The pastor (often the founder) can set the church in motion toward the future of his or her dreams. But for established mainline congregations, the work of “visioning teams” may lead to naught. Efforts to discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance can easily devolve into a guessing game: How will we know when we’ve chosen the right vision?

Enter Good to Great. The study reported in Built to Last addressed the question, “What factors enable some organizations to achieve enduring greatness?” In the broad span of history, the Christian church is clearly such an organization. But even great organizations can lose sight of their vision and stray off course, which may be true of many 21st-Century American churches. The salient question for these churches is not, “What are the attributes of a great organization?” but “What will it take to become great once again?” Good to Great, the result of another multi-year research study, suggests some answers. Furthermore, Collins posits a definitive relationship between an organization’s historic roots and its potential breakthrough to greatness. Good-to-great transitions are achieved not by reinvention, but by recommitment to an organization’s core values and purpose. Rededication to our ideals may help us discover the right vision.

The recent/current recession raises new questions, some of which Collins addresses in his 2009 volume, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. Yet in the context of the questions it was intended to answer, I find no reason to second-guess the fundamental conclusions of Good to Great.

Not Read

I have not read Collin's works. But I am sure that history is being studied so we can learn from it. There are things which are likely to go wrong, as we are humans. Even the chosen people of God, Israel, have to go through difficulties. I guess those companies mentioned in the book are also subject to failures as they are run by humans - and somewhere along the way, they have not used to full potential the gifts God have provided for them. Or, I may not be totally correct and not in the position to make judgements. Whatever it was which went wrong, history had not captured that, only the outcome was recorded.

Haiti Election

As i'm concern about my Haiti. After an Heavy natural disaster It's become back dated. And bearing unmeasurable sufferings. Still now it's facing crisis from all sides, created from the Earth Quake as well as by nature. But It's time to change the day, So request all of you to come forward to make tha days ahead distinctly.
I think at this moment HAITI really needs help to be rebuild.Outgoing Haitian President René Préval has set the presidential elections for Nov. 28, 2010.
According to ma justification,
Haiti Election Candidate should be under consideration as a deserving personality,
who can supply the best support and leadership
Thank you.


Haitian President René Préval has no clue what he has gotten himself into and I really feel that a better leader could have been in place to take the election forward.

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