Moneyball And The Church

While working with college age young adults and singles, I saw a lot of turnover as younger folks tend to move away, marry away, serve away, and even walk away from the church. This led me to invest heavily into our leader development and small group coaching.

I finally saw the movie Moneyball and I believe there are lessons screaming from the big screen for folks in Christian ministry and I recommend watching it (because nobody seems to have the patience to read anymore).

Instead of writing a witty and wordy lead-in, I present my point:

This movie seen through a ministry lens begs the question: Do we want to develop young innovators at the expense of time and even inconvenience, or do we want to exclusively buy impressive looking staff from other organizations? I’m a big fan of having a strong farm system. I attended my current church for the better part of six years as a teacher, ministry director, & intern, and for the past four years have been blessed to serve briefly first as part time staff, and now a full time pastor. I am the beneficiary of a church that bothered to look from within when hiring new staff.

I know, I know. We’ve all been burned a few times, investing in some potential leaders and it didn’t pan out. That is why I have grown to be more discerning when choosing who I will invest in. But we can’t give up on discipling our young guys just because we made poor choices before, can we? If your last protege didn’t pan out because you were so arrogant you thought you could just turn anyone in to a leader, who is to blame?

It is worth asking some tough questions… Are we strong enough at discipling our own young guys into leaders, or do we outsource that development to churches and organizations that look bigger/better/cooler than ours? Is it a better investment to spend time molding our own young church members into missionally minded leaders, or do we throw in the towel and simply poach staff from other churches by offering them a bunch of money? Do we want to use free agents on occasion to fill holes and bring in a fresh voice, or simply to “sell tickets” to keeps fans in the stands? These are important questions, are they not? If we do not ask and answer these questions ourselves, our best and brightest will answer them for us…

Moneyball. As a ministry, is it better to buy championships, or disciple our own? I’m a realist. I understand sometimes it is a great option to look outside the organization for the right fit in certain roles. But exceptions aren’t what I am talking about. I’m talking about a mindset of discipleship and developing leaders.

What do you think? Will you risk failure by investing in young potential leaders, or would you rather let some other church or organization have that risk (and reward)?

10 responses to “Moneyball And The Church”

  1. Good post and challenging thoughts. Another Moneyball analogy: Billy Bean was willing to challenge a guy (Scott Hatteburg) to take his gifts (great OBP with hits and walks) and channel them into a slightly different position (going from catcher to 1st base) for the good of the team. Are we willing to let a leader who recognizes our gifts challenge us to use our gifts for Kingdom business in entirely different ways that we hadn’t previously thought of?

  2. It is the same in teaching. There are teaching assistants and student teachers within who could be mentored into a teaching position. I am one of the mentors who would like to do this. Wish everyone had your passion.

  3. Haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s a well made point. While it may be wise, especially in a large church, to look outside to fill some positions, a church probably isn’t doing what churches exist to do if people within aren’t growing and stepping up to fill needs of service and leadership. Leaders and teachers work to equip others, and many do the work or ministry (Eph. 4). Invest broadly in many that way, and really intentionally in a few and mature, competant people should come of it.

    My own church is more like the A’s than the Yankees (we don’t have 10 million to spend on one middle reliever, or can’t hire someone to run most of our ministries in the first place), so our issues are a little different. So, while we’re not looking to hire someone trained somewhere else to lead, there are probably too few people who do most of the work.

    • Great point Brian. While the Yankees are probably not the best example (They have a knack for bringing in great talent from within and have 27 world championships), I think you get the bigger picture. Teams like the Red Sox (missed playoffs two years in a row despite dropping ,millions on disappointing players) and especially the hapless Mets (just a pathetic franchise) could really make your point better.

  4. Churches benefit greatly from hiring their staff from within the congregation. Utilizing your best volunteer will enable the mission and vision of the church to quickly move forward. Ministry is relational, the greatest assets the church has are people that are sold out to serve Christ with their, gifts, talents, and skills and who know the people within the body they serve.

    Much of what staff members do besides aligning the congregation with the mission and vision is recruiting, building, equipping, and inspiring teams of individuals to do the ministry.

    If a church hires a “star” from the outside it will take that person anywhere between 12-24 months to discover the mission, vision, culture and individuals that are the heartbeat of moving the church from here to there.

    For the same cost of hiring one “star”, you could probably train and equip two local volunteers who have a teachable spirit and do not bring their own agenda to bring to the table.

  5. Daniel:

    Well written and thought out. I haven’t seen MoneyBall, nor have I read the book. However, I am familiar with the concepts, on and off the field.

    We have to remember that it takes both kinds of persons, in the right combination, to make a big church grow. Most churches grow organically by one life touching another which touches another which touches another, many times over. That’s your basic farm system. That’s your base and your strength. That’s who you mentor, and counsel and give attention to. However, sometimes you have to have a closer or a set up man, or a DH, because this specific body of Christ doesn’t have one. Yes, we do have to recruit stars, who were molded by another great church or mentor or leader. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing when the ones you teach fly away or move on or graduate. They are moving to teach others what you have taught them. We have to keep our farm system strong and vibrant. We have to continue to build and teach the leaders of the future, whether that future is here or elsewhere. One of the things I tried to do as a Sunday School teacher of young adults, was “push them out.” Sunday School adult classes should be sending out new SS leaders every year. If your SS class doesn’t turn over every two or three years, you’re not doing your job of training and pushing them to go out and do the same. That’s how a farm system grows. You move from HS to college to A ball to AA to AAA, and then you jump to the big show.

    Keep on doing what you’re doing, big guy. You’re on the right track!!! I’m thankful for you…..

    • I love the balance in your comment, Scott. For every home grown Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter, there is a Curtis Granderson and a Paul O’Neill. Great stuff. And THANKS for the kind words!

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