The world's largest businesses have had great successes and great failures on their journeys to becoming what they are today—rising, falling, and occasionally making dramatic comebacks. As ministry leaders, there is a lot we can learn from their stories. One of the biggest issues any organization can face is wanting to grow, pursuing growth, and then growing too big too fast. It is wise to intentionally plan a growth strategy, but how do we determine the right growth strategy? This is where some of these businesses whose failures and successes have played out in the spotlight come into play.
For me, it is hard not to look at Subway and Krispy Kreme, food chains that we all know and who have been extremely successful, struggle over time as they grew too big too fast.
Did you know that Subway is the largest fast-food restaurant chain in the world? As large as we think McDonald's is with its 14,000 US locations, Subway has over 25,000 stores in the US alone. But as impressive as this seems, over 900 of Subway's US stores closed last year, and there may be more store closures coming. Why? There are many reasons—including a disgraced spokesperson—that have contributed to their downward spiral, but most significant is likely the fact that they placed more emphasis on growing their company by opening new store locations at the expense of remaining true to their brand. For a chain that once advertised itself as a fresh, healthier alternative to other fast food options—receiving local produce deliveries daily—an order from corporate headquarters requiring produce to only be delivered once a week—twice if sales are especially high—was a huge blow.
Similarly, after being sold to an international conglomerate in the 1970s, Krispy Kreme's new parent company saw the doughnut chain as a perfect platform to unload products made by its other divisions, and soon the Krispy Kreme outlets were selling everything from soup to ice cream. Years later Krispy Kreme was bought back by a group of franchisees and it eventually went public, but with the new pressure for higher earnings, the store famous for "hot doughnuts now" again abandoned its brand identity and began making some of its product in central kitchens and trucking the cold doughnuts to be sold in gas stations and supermarkets. It no longer became special and lost its uniqueness in the industry. It began to be replaced by Dunkin Donuts and specialty donut stores like Stans Donuts in Chicago.
I am happy to say that after some significant changes Krispy Kreme is getting back to its roots and is doing well, but it begs the question if you have a good thing going, why change it? And is it possible for Subway to make a similar comeback?
Pushing to grow too fast or losing sight of why our organizations were founded can lead to disastrous results. It is okay to want to grow, but we must remember to grow strategically, intentionally catering to our strengths and remaining true to our God-given vision. Both Subway and Krispy Kreme, in their races to become big fast, lost sight of what initially set them apart from their competition: their vision—to be a fresh, healthy fast-food alternative and to deliver "hot doughnuts now."
It is not a bad thing to want to grow as a ministry. In fact, it is a very biblical concept. When we look at The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 and The Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19, we see that in both stories the servants were rewarded for being good stewards of what had been entrusted to them in their masters' absence. It was not enough for the servants to simply maintain what was in their care, the masters expected that when they returned they would receive back more than they had given to the servants when they left; they expected to see growth. Good stewardship meant that in the masters' absence the servants were putting the money to work and were receiving a return on the investment.
As we make plans to grow our organizations, an important question to ask ourselves—one which will play a big part in determining our growth strategy—is, do we see ourselves as stewards or as owners? The answer you and I give to this question makes a big difference. An owner sees everything he has as his to do with as he pleases, while a steward cares for what he has to the best of his abilities, knowing that one day he will return what he has to his Master and will be expected to give an account. The choices we make for ourselves and our organizations will differ significantly depending on our mindset.
God has given you and I different visions of what He would like us to accomplish through our respective ministries. This is what makes our ministry "brand" unique. In the two parables, everyone received something, but not everyone received the same thing. Not everyone is called to do the same work. Every person has unique strengths and giftings, and in the same way, each of our ministries has unique strengths and giftings in order to carry out the respective visions that God has given us. Are we pouring our resources into activities that utilize our organizations' biggest assets to make the difference our founders set out to make?
It is easy to get sidetracked along the way, and many times we are not even sidetracked by intrinsically bad things. But the more often our ministries say "yes" to being involved in good things, the less time we have to devote to the right things, the areas where the true calling for our ministry lies. We have to be discerning in our growth strategy. We cannot say yes to every opportunity, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. When we focus our efforts on what we are good at—what we are called to do—we leave those other opportunities open for other ministries that are called to do those things—things at which they excel. Instead of competing against each other, we each focus on "our thing" and we are more fruitful in our concentrated efforts.
If I can simplify the ups and downs of Subway and Krispy Kreme, it all boils down to this: don't lose sight of the vision God has given you. Be good stewards of the work He has placed in your care, and be wise in your growth strategy. Be mindful of the fact that what we have is only temporarily in our care and at some point, we will give it back to God. At that time I hope we will all hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
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