The Hedgehog Concept
Perhaps the number one question I get from church leaders is this: “How do you explain the growth of The Gathering?” My answer usually begins with this: Any rapidly-growing church, ours included, is singularly, relentlessly and unapologetically evangelical. We see everything we do through the lens of inviting people to follow Jesus and pursue at all times.
In his bestselling book Good to Great, Jim Collins coined a term that has become pervasive in the business world – the hedgehog concept. The idea is simple and comes from a folktale about foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes know a lot of things; they are wily and cunning, coming up with myriad strategies to attack the hedgehog. The hedgehog, by comparison, knows one thing – curling up in a ball when attacked, with sharp spikes protruding everywhere. With all the ideas, strategies and creative plans the fox comes up with, the hedgehog sticks to its one big thing and wins every time. The analogy to organizations is straightforward: While good organizations devise numerous ideas worth pursuing and strategies worth following, great organizations focus on one big thing and are relentless about pursuing it.
Enter churches. Most churches are passionate about many things. We want to invite new people, care for longtime members, tend to the sick, have a great adult discipleship ministry, develop compelling ministries for kids and teenagers, impact the world through advocacy and justice ministries, and serve the poor and marginalized in our midst. Most of these ministries are biblical and are to be expected. But the list often continues. A sports league for low-income youth, a quilters group, a volleyball league for singles, Wednesday night dinners for fellowship, a Saturday morning running group, and on and on. Pretty soon, good churches are stretched so thin doing 100 good ministries that it is easy to see evangelism as just another ministry.
By comparison, rapidly growing churches relentlessly, singularly and unapologetically elevate the practice of evangelism and see every other ministry through this lens. They are a hedgehog, doing this one thing well day after day, week after week, year after year.
To voice this singular focus on evangelism almost begs a pushback – what about other aspects of the gospel? Are they less important? Aren’t you just concerned about numbers? It seems like you care more about people who aren’t here yet than people who are? Isn’t Jesus about more than just getting new people to do things? But to pit evangelism against every other area of ministry is to misunderstand the invitational nature of all ministry.
Consider this the story of Jesus sending out 70 (or 72) of his followers. It was a natural progression in the gospel of Luke. For the first 10 chapters, new people are encountering Christ. His first followers witnessed him teaching, preaching, serving, and healing people that were often disconnected from God. Then in the tenth chapter, Jesus turns the table on his followers.
He looks at them and essentially says “O.K., now it's your turn.” Just as you saw me do all of these things for the sake of disconnected people, now I want you to do it. It wasn’t enough to be close to Jesus and to follow him. Jesus also wants his followers out there engaging new people in the work of teaching and healing. Mature faith is not primarily pictured as memorizing scripture, growing close with a small group, being in worship each week, or serving on every church committee. Jesus nowhere responds to those who want more of God by saying, ‘O.K., let’s all have a Bible study on Isaiah!” In the gospel, mature faith is pictured as taking up the work Christ did for us and offering it for others. That is evangelism. And it pervades (or at least ought to) all other ministry.
Is your church passionate about social justice? Evangelism invites you to consider inviting more people into that work. Is biblical learning central to your ministry? Evangelism is about how you engage more people with that work. Does you church value congregational care, ministries of healing, and visitation of those who are sick or homebound? Evangelism is about that work being done by, and for, even more people. In this way evangelism is not just another priority among many – but it becomes the central value of your church.
At The Gathering, we teach this, preach this and expect invitation to be central to every area of our ministry. Far from apologizing for it, we believe that it is a sin NOT to do this. Evangelism is singular, a lens through which we see everything, and we pursue that focus unapologetically.