Popular business consultant and best-selling author Jim Collins has written a new book titled, Great By Choice. In one section of his book, Collins singles out Southwest Airlines as arguably the most successful airline in history. Southwest has been in business for 41 years and has made a profit the last 39 years in a row. They are consistently at the top of Fortune 500’s most admired companies.
Why? What’s the secret behind the industry’s most dependable and profitable airline? Collins insists the key to Southwest’s long-term success is the fact that their mission has remained the same. They keep the main thing, the main thing. The values haven’t changed. “We work hard, have fun and take care of people”, says Gary Kelly, Executive Vice President. It’s as simple as that.
Over the years Southwest Airlines has made necessary adjustments to pricing, added new destinations, altered flight schedules and varied loading procedures, but they have stayed with the basics for over four decades. They only use 737 jets, not a fleet. As a result, pilots can easily adjust and airplane parts are interchangeable. They have open seating, no first class. They dedicate themselves to fulfilling the same mission and keeping the same values and the results speak for themselves.
Southwest’s success provides a good lesson for church leaders. God honors the church that stays with the basics. Our core beliefs don’t change. We believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word. We believe God created the world, man is a sinner, Jesus died an atoning death for our sins and arose bodily from the grave and He’s the only way to salvation. We believe the Holy Spirit dwells within the heart of every Christian. We believe there is a heaven awaiting those who belong to Christ and hell awaits those who reject Him. We believe the church is the body of Christ on earth and it exists primarily to evangelize the lost and deepen them with God’s truth.
While it’s occasionally necessary to make adjustments in presentation and methodology, wise church leaders don’t become obsessed with innovation. They don’t fall victim to what David Novak, CEO of YUM! calls “innovative indulgence.” They recognize that in a world of constant upheaval there is some value in tradition and they don’t change just for change sake.
Thomas Sowell wrote, “Much of the social history of the western world over the past three decades has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.” That’s frequently been the history of the church also. Some excellent changes in methodology have been made over the years but some ideas that sounded really good in promotion haven’t proven as effective in practice.
Of much greater concern however is the changing of the basic message. Some believers, who love innovation, quickly get bored with the sameness of the message and seek to gain the world’s approval by “tweaking” the orthodox doctrine a little so it’s more palatable to contemporary listeners. Many “emerging church” leaders have insisted we need to be sensitive to what’s politically correct and not offend people with the ancient doctrine of hell or the exclusivity of Jesus. While their creative energy sparks some temporary interest, the demon of liberalism has emptied more churches and dried up more religious institutions of higher learning than any of Satan’s other minions.
The church would do well to remember that the power to save and transform lives is not in persuading the world we’re cool but in emphasizing the awesome magnetism of the cross. Jesus said, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me.” That’s why the Apostle Paul warned, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:8)
Years ago several churches adopted the slogan, “Geared to the times, but anchored to the Rock.” Good slogan. Be flexible and willing to change when necessary but don’t be obsessed with change for change sake. Most importantly, stay with the basic beliefs and don’t conveniently say what itching ears want to hear. The Apostle John advised, “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life” (1 John 2:24-25).