Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Churches Can Learn from Southwest Airlines

By Thom Rainer

The news reports were disturbing to me. Passengers of a Southwest flight from Phoenix to Sacramento heard a loud noise. They looked up to find a large hole above them. The five-foot-long hole tore open Friday in the passenger cabin roof shortly after the plane carrying 118 people left Phoenix. It made a rapid descent, landing at a military base in Yuma, 150 miles southwest of Phoenix. No one was seriously hurt.

I fly Southwest frequently since it is one of the major airlines at Nashville International Airport. And I have no desire to have a scenic sky view above on any future flight.

Though the brand of Southwest has taken a hit with the latest scare, I am impressed with the steps leaders of the airline are taking to restore confidence in their entire fleet. Indeed, as I watch these events unfold, I am taking copious notes. And I’ve learned a few lessons for local churches from Southwest.

Be Willing to Ask Hard Questions
Southwest was very candid about the situation. They let the watching world know that they were asking themselves some tough questions. One of the first questions they asked was: "Is the problem on this airplane a part of a larger issue on all 737-300s?" Because they were asking this question openly, it forced them to begin an inspection on all airplanes of this model and closely related models.

Many church leaders and members are unwilling to ask tough questions because they fear the answer. For example, how many church leaders are asking the question: Is our church truly evangelistic? By almost any standard, most American churches are anemic evangelistically. Asking the tough question can make you seek the tough answer. And hearing the tough answer typically leads to change. And an unwillingness to change is one of the great impediments to congregational health in churches today.

Be Willing to Look Beyond the Surface
According to the reports to date, Southwest is looking for signs of fatigue in these planes. In layman’s terms, they are looking for cracks. But if they find a crack, they will not be satisfied with their discovery. They will want to know what caused the crack. They will literally and figuratively go beyond surface issues.

Many American churches will report that their congregations have some growth, that they met budget, and that all of their ministries and programs are still active. They will thus conclude that they are healthy churches. Only a few will look beyond the surface to see if the church is really impacting the church or to discover if true disciples are being made.

Be Willing to Take Tough Actions
Southwest immediately grounded 79 airplanes and canceled over 600 flights. That’s a lot of lost revenue! And the tough actions probably have just begun.

I fear that we too often are comfortable with the status quo in our churches. We don’t want to change the worship services. We don’t want to change the time of the services or small groups. We don’t like what the budget committee recommended. Someone got my pew!

The majority of American churches today are unhealthy by almost any metric. Instead of obeying Christ’s command to take up the cross, we respond by insisting on doing things the way we’ve always done. We are unwilling to accept the short-term pain for long-term gain. And so we remain: inflexible, protective of the status quo, and irrelevant to the community and the world we serve.

And the world we were called to reach does not know we exist.

And the community we were called to serve sees us as irrelevant to their lives.

Until next time...share the journey and enjoy the ride!