18 Practices of Churches That Have Sustained Success

Success sustained

During my 20s, two nationally recognized churches resided in my hometown within just five miles of each other. Because of a demand for new worship styles, a changing community and their inability and refusal to engage the next generation, these two churches are still in existence today but have limited impact.

These congregations have aged dramatically, and their best days are seemingly in the past. This could have been avoided.

I wondered, “Are there success links churches can implement to ensure ongoing generational success?” With the World Series having ended recently, I wanted to take a look at the St. Louis Cardinals for answers. This organization has had success decade after decade after decade, even though they lost this year to the Boston Red Sox.

I went back into my archives and uncovered the May 27, 2013, Sports Illustrated article written by Ben Reiter about what he called “the Cardinal Way.” As I read Reiter’s profile on the Cardinals, I gleaned 18 things about the Cardinal Way that all churches can learn from to have sustained success.

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1. Churches that have sustained success are willing to change with the times. The Cardinal Way is an ethos for one of the game's most enduring organizations. However, the team is flexible enough to change with game’s trends better than any other.

2. Churches that have sustained success avoid complacency. General Manager John Mozeliak says, “We can’t ever just get complacent and think we’ve figured it out. The moment we do that, we’re going to get passed.”

3. Churches that have sustained success continually innovate. The Cardinals have a commitment to “ceaselessly, though judiciously, innovate.” Does your church?

4. Churches that have sustained success value results. Mozeliak goes on to add, regarding superstar prospect Oscar Taveras, “He’s an aggressive hitter with a really good trait. He hits the ball hard, and often.”

5. Churches that have sustained success let people experiment. Does your church do R&D? Pitching coach Dave Duncan convinces pitchers to try his ideas and then gives them appropriate time to figure it out. He says, “They gotta tinker. That’s the only thing that works.”

6. Churches that have sustained success must feel enough pain to want to change. Star pitcher Adam Wainwright experienced enough failure and difficulty that he was ready to tinker.

7. Churches that have sustained success promote from within. The Cardinals have an organizational philosophy of in-house succession.

8. Churches that have sustained success recognize potential. In my book 10 Indispensable Practices of the 2-Minute Leader, I say that when enlisting talent, you must look at a person’s past, present and future. When drafting pitchers, the Cardinals look at a player’s potential. Mozeliak said, “In the draft we decided to emphasize not just pitchers who were throwing hard at the time, but guys we thought might throw harder in the future.”

9. Churches that have sustained success build a deep bench. The Cardinals' farm system is stocked full of great young pitchers.

10. Churches that have sustained success embrace diversity. Churches that will be successful in the future are intentionally multiethnic and multigenerational. These churches also value a diversity of skills. Duncan says, “Different guys have different abilities.”

11. Churches that have sustained success pay attention to detail. Little things make a big difference. Pitcher Michael Wacha says, “This organization is all about attention to detail—they hammer this stuff home constantly.”

12. Churches that have sustained success have faced adversity. Great organizations lose top talent. The Cardinals faced serious adversity when star player Albert Pujols left the team via free agency. Mozeliak said, “Losing an iconic player was not easy—it was jolting.”

13. Churches that have sustained success have financial margin. The exit of Pujols gave the team significant financial resources to deploy elsewhere.

14. Churches that have sustained success are greater than a single individual. Great churches—and great organizations like the Cardinals—are “committed to agility” that is beyond a single individual.

15. Churches that have sustained success recognize and reward top performers. While not building the team around a single player, great organizations still recognize and value unique talent. The Cardinals gave star catcher Yadier Molina a five-year, $75-million contract. So valuable is Molina that manager Mike Matheny says, “You want to get our pitchers mad, start talking poorly about Yadi.”

16. Churches that have sustained success protect the public trust. Mozeliak says, “I always think that my role here is almost like working for a public trust, and I’m a steward of it.”

17. Churches that have sustained success leave a lasting impression. Former Cardinals scout Mike Elias says, “The people that work there and leave, they continue to identify themselves as former Cardinals.”

18. Churches that have sustained success have sustained excellence. Mozeliak concludes, “We realized long ago that free agency was not a place we wanted to be using our resources. We decided that for us to have sustained success, we had to do it internally.”

One of the things churches must do to have sustained success is build a leadership culture. To help build a leadership culture in your church, purchase my book 10 Indispensable Practices Of The 2-Minute Leader. With compelling simplicity, this unique book examines 10 of those practices—each centered on a key word, a key statement and a key application. Special introductory pricing for bulk orders exists for individual and small group studies.

Brian Dodd’s daytime job is as a generosity architect and leadership consultant for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. During the last 10-plus years, he has spent each day having one-on-one conversations with many of the greatest church leaders in America. He also has more than 25 years of church volunteer and staff experience. Check out his blog, Brian Dodd on Leadership.

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