In Jim Collin’s book Good to Great he talks about the importance of having a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). His application is to business but it obviously applies to numerous other organizations, including churches. Often we’re just too short-sighted when it comes to goal-setting. We much prefer small and easy to big and audacious.

This Thursday I heard an example of a BHAG at the Noon Rotary Club. In 1984, Rotary International made it their goal to eradicate Polio from the world. Think about that one for a minute. Polio is a devastating disease that has affected millions of children. Before 1954 it was one of the most feared diseases in America and caused near panic, but shortly after the Salk vaccine it was eradicated in the United States. Yet, in 1984 it was still present if over 80 countries world-wide and there were a reported 1,000 cases per day. One BHAG and 24 years later there are only 1,500 cases per year and polio has been eliminated in all but four countries (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Pakistan). The Rotary has contributed over 630 million dollars to the goal and have literally vaccinated billions of children around the world. That’s pretty remarkable.

How did they do it? A lot of people, doing a little at a time, to accomplish a common goal. For example, they recently asked their members to help finish the fight against polio by contributing just $20 dollars. If all 1.2 million members give it will equal $24 million! A little turns into a lot. What if the church did that? What BHAGs could we accomplish world-wide if the church universal rallied around a common goal? Eliminate hunger? End poverty? Provide clean drinking water for every person? Provide adequate health-care for every child? Eradicate a disease? It’s sounds idealistic and unachievable, but just think of the resources of the global church in terms of people and finances. If a lot did a little something big could happen.

4 thoughts on “BHAGs

  1. Russ -I agree with you that churches need to show some boldness with regards to their mission and goals. I think the prayer that “God’s will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven” is a BHAG. Living faithfully in the “new aeon” while surrounded by the reality and presence of the “old aeon” is a BHAG. (i.e. living as peacmakers faithfully committed to the coming peace in the consumated kingdom, while surrounded by the violence and war-making that marks the ‘old age’) But I would be interested in hearing you talk about what can happen when the BHAG’s focus is misdirected. What happens when the business principle of BHAG is employed for the sake of the institution and not for the sake of the kingdom of God???? Is this a fear of yours as a church leader? How do you deal with it?

  2. I’d like to hear you expand on that second paragraph a little more but a couple things come to mind. Sometimes the BHAG is too denomination-focused. For example, we want to grow members of our particular group or expand our brand of doctrine (not core Christian doctrines, but our unique practices). Sometimes the BHAG is too self-centered. We want to do a good work for our community but we want to make sure that our church gets the credit! That slows progress and I’m fairly confident God doesn’t bless that attitude. But it’s present in a lot of churches, including mine from time to time (full disclosure here).There’s a guy I know in our county that dreams of a “United Way” approach to helping people in our community. Basically get all the churches to support one central group that provides food, clothing, transportation, etc. That centralizes everything and keeps churches from repeating the same programs and gives people one place to come for help. There are 150+ churches in our county. If each would contribute just 2% of their budget to a project like this we would easily have a well-funded and well-staffed organization. It could accomplish a lot of good! As it is there are dozens of non-profits struggling to get by financially and church-based ministries who are competing with one another by offering the same services to the same people.How much traction do you think his idea has gotten? Very little. For one, it’s hard to get all the churches to agree enough to pool their resources. Two, the credit goes to Christianity in general and not to our particular group or church. That sounds cynical, but I fear it’s true. Our attitude tends to be more along the lines of “look what the Baptists are doing” or “look what the Churches of Christ are doing” instead of “look what the followers of Jesus are doing.”That’s a really long rambling, but hey, that’s the name of the blog.

  3. Russ – thanks for your response. I basically agree with your “cynicism” which is really no cynicism burt more a reality. I too find it sad that there cannot be a more ecumenical approach to basic and core christian efforts like ministering to the poor and caring for the sick. And I agree that the “why” of that non-cooperation is self-centerdness. But I also believe we as a people (christians in america) have a more basic problem. That is we have an identity crisis. We don’t know who we are! We don’t know what makes us distinct and peculiar to the rest of the world. And we don’t know who we are because we are focused on peripherals rather than the person of Jesus of Nazereth. We are tied and married to head doctrines rather than the metanarrative that shapes and defines us as a people. In that sense we are unbeleivers. We are no different than the world. Which is what scares me about catchy business models for church. My point is this. Isn’t the Sermon on the Mount and other Jewish visions of what the Kingdom Come would be like (I.e. Is. 61) – aren’t these visions our BHAG’s? Indeed they are the narrative – the endf of the story. And isn’t that what we’re called to? And doesn’t this vision, when its fleshed out in authentic community, strike hard against the “wisdom of the world”?

  4. Hum… I wonder if the Big Hairy Audacious Goal was written before or after a certain other someone wrote about audacity?:)Speaking of him, think of the people in America’s past who did one small thing, repeatedly, to try to advance toward their goal of racial reconciliation. One soup at the counter, one refusal to move to the back of the bus, one peaceful march, one step at a time. I mean, it is really remarkable.

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