Jim Collins, in his book How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In (New York: HarperCollins, 2006) draws a sobering picture of five elements he sees that cause companies to go into decline.

Like an Old Testament prophet of doom, Collins warns,

Every institution is vulnerable, no matter how great. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top. Anyone can fall, and most eventually do.


But Collins is not only a prophet of doom; he also offers a helpful five-point early warning system to predict demise in any human community or institution:

1. Hubris Born of Success – arrogant neglect, “knowing” too much. Great enterprises can become insulated by success

2. Undisciplined Pursuit of More – pursuing the next new thing out of ambition, creativity, fear

3. Denial of Risk or Peril – tuning out clues about the decline

4. Grasping for Salvation – big bold moves rather than solid progress

5. Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death – running out of options

Collins suggests that these five problems beset companies in which individuals with the greatest grasp of the company’s core principles are forced out of key positions of leadership and influence. So it is essential Collins argues for companies to examine whether they are forcing their most important leaders to compromise their foundational values by asking:

  • Can your staff say no to what erodes the core of your business?
  • Is objective reality taken seriously enough in decision-making processes?
  • Can those who make promises get an accurate “read” on what the organization is capable of delivering?

Where his five questions are seriously asked and honestly answered,  Collins suggests it is possible for danger signal number five to be replaced by a possible alternative:

Recovery and Renewal – coming clean about gaps, biting the bullet to invest for the long-term

The church has always been in the business of “the long-term.” If we are going to continue to be in the religion business for the “long-term” we would do well to listen to Mr. Collins.

We would do well to heed Mr. Collins’ advice to begin with the practice of humility. We need to acknowledge our limitations and admit that there are a great many things we do not know or understand. We can offer the insights we have but only with gentleness and compassion. We must resist any temptation to impose our “superior” views on anyone, or to fall prey to the illusion that we know better than everyone else.

Churches that hope to be in business for “the long-term” will want to seek out people willing to ask hard questions, those who are able to say “no to what erodes the core” of our community life. We need to live in light of the realities of our situation (“objective reality”) and refuse to retreat behind comforting illusions. We will attempt to face honestly the nature of the challenge confronting us in trying to be genuinely open and responsive to a culture that takes a slim interest at best in the business of church.

The essential quality of healthy organizations is the willingness to see their situation clearly, listen deeply, and respond honestly to the realities of life as they present themselves.

I wonder what voices we are silencing in the church? Who are we unwilling to hear? What realities are we refusing to see?

When we have honestly answered these questions, we may find ourselves in a position to open to the possibility of renewed life and vitality and “to invest for the long-term.”