What Hedgehogs Teach Us About Ministry

In Jim Collin’s classic book, Good to Great, he introduces readers to the idea of a Hedgehog Concept. Collins says the idea came from a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin called “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” It’s based on the ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The fox uses multiple ideas and numerous strategies in its battles with the hedgehog. But, says Collins, the hedgehog always wins by using one simple, surefire approach – curling up into a ball. When the hedgehog employs this defensive position, it exposes his sharp spikes to deter attacks from predators. Despite the many and varied tactics the fox uses, the hedgehog always emerges victorious by using his one, focused strategy.

Collins goes on to say that the idea of a Hedgehog Concept has helped successful companies define who they are, focus their energies and become more successful. They do this by answering three critical questions. 1. What are you best at? 2. What are you most passionate about? 3. What drives your economic engine?

Developing a Hedgehog Concept for churches can be extremely valuable. As churches grow, they naturally drift towards complexity. So the need to define and embrace a Hedgehog Concept will help define vision and mission, give a framework around resource allocation and give clarity to critical decision making.

I was part of a church that used the Hedgehog Concept. The senior leaders asked the three questions. After much time, thought and prayer, their answers were incorporated into the culture of the church and helped the church in a major season of growth.

As church leaders who want to bring increased levels of organizational health to your churches, encourage your leaders to wrestle with these three questions.  

What are you best at?

Draw an imaginary circle around your church. The distance people are willing to drive to your facility will determine the size of your circle. Next, consider the other churches in that same circle. Then decide what your church is best at.

I know of a pastor who often told his staff, “Remember, it’s not a competition…but we’re winning!” His point was, evangelical churches are all on the same team. Our goal is to reach people for Christ and advance God’s kingdom. It’s not a competition, but it’s ok to strive to do your best at what you’re best at.

I once asked a church staff of 80, “What are you best at?” I got 12 different answers. They clearly didn’t know. In determining your Hedgehog Concept your goal is to clearly know. Then focus on your strength. It’s where you will have the greatest impact.

What are you most passionate about?

Your passion is what motivates you. If your church could only do one thing, what would it be? What keeps you awake at night? What gets you up in the morning after a long, frustrating evening meeting? That’s your greatest passion.

So decide what you’re most passionate about. Then evaluate your ministries and programs to see if they align with your passion. If not, you don’t necessarily need to throw them out. Just keep in mind that passion motivates and drives ministry.

What keeps your church going?

In the corporate world, the question is “What’s your economic driver?” In kingdom endeavors, it’s better phrased, “What drives your organization?” Is it people in the seats? Is it dollars in the collection plate? Or maybe it’s salvations, baptisms, services or campuses. Or maybe it’s something else.

I know of a church that determined its driver was ownership. They determined that it’s only when people take ownership of their faith and the mission of the church, that real growth will happen. Ownership drives that church.

In determining your Hedgehog Concept, don’t copy a different church. While evangelical churches might have similar missions, each individual church is as unique as the pastor that leads and the people who attend. So wrestle with this concept. Determine the answers based on you, your vision, and your current reality. Incorporate your Hedgehog Concept into your culture and watch your plans get more focused and your ministries become more effective for God’s kingdom.