One of the absolutely vital components of a healthy church, business or organization is focus. Back in 2001, Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, shares how focus is a secret to a great company in an idea called “The Hedgehog.” Here’s what Collins says about this idea:
Are you a hedgehog or a fox? In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
A Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.
Foxes try to be clever and know and try lots of ways to catch a hedgehog. But the hedgehog has one and only one defense that works every time. It rolls itself up in a ball with its quills outward and its soft inner body protected when danger comes.
Too many churches and organizations try to know and do too many things. The question for you as you lead is simple. What is and what can your group be the best at? What must you be the best at? These are questions of focus. You see, there is no church or group that can be “all things to all people” (Those are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and they have a very different context and purpose).
Some of the best and most effective churches and organizations focus on a few things. Life.Church is an example of focus. They focus on excellent worship, kids and youth, and small groups. That means they say “no” to things others want them to do like concerts or men’s or women’s ministry. Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix has always had a targeted focus or “customer.” They seek to reach unchurched men. If they can win the man, they believe they’ll reach the whole family. Continuing to use the church as an example, your focus might be discipleship, teaching, spiritual formation, targeting a specific type of group, a specific type of community transformation or recovery ministry.
Back about 10 years ago I decided our church needed to offer a traditional style worship service with hymns, piano, choir, etc. It’s a valid style of worship and I was sure there were people who liked this style. Other churches do “traditional” very well. But we were pretty bad at it. And it took tons of works, time, volunteers, and resources away from what we do really well. I made the decision after a year to stop that service. Some people left disappointed and unhappy. But that decision helped us to focus on what God has called us to focus on.
One of my favorite quotes says; “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!” Jesus knew his main thing. His focus dominated what he did and how he lived his life. Jesus actually told us his main thing; For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost – Luke 19:10. That’s the one thing that really matters to Jesus – reaching lost people. That’s where he spent a significant amount of his time. It was lost people he sought out and hung out with. He had a reputation of focusing on the people the religious folks said were lost. That’s why he told three specific parables about the lost in Luke 15. Jesus was focused.
As leader you need to figure out, with other key leaders in prayerful connection with God, what your “hedgehog” is. You need to figure out what you are best at and what is most important for you to focus on. As I lead our church, I know the things that are non-negotiable to accomplish our vision and mission. Focusing on too many things will sabotage excellence and dilute effectiveness.
And yes, a clear focus has both ups and downs. A clear focus will mean some folks and clients will decide they want something different and go elsewhere. That’s okay. But a clear focus will also attract quality leaders and allow you to leverage your people, finances and other resources to make a clear difference. When you are focused you know exactly who you are trying to reach as new clients or who you want to serve. You learn to say no to the good things that in fact are the enemy of what’s best.
Great leaders have a focus and are tenacious in keeping the main thing the main thing. The attacks on focus will never end. You’ll be tempted over and over to weaken your grip on your hedgehog concept. Resist! You can’t and don’t want to be the answer to every problem in your sphere of influence. Figure out the problem that God is calling you to address and stick to it with all you have.