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Craig Groeschel: How to Let Your Constraints Drive Innovation


Kicking off the Global Leadership Summit 2019, Pastor Craig Groeschel used the opening session to say something counterintuitive that most church leaders probably wish they could hear every day. Encouraging the crowd that they could use their constraints to innovate, he helped leaders see their limitations as opportunities. 

“So many leaders think better always costs more,” Groeschel said. Whether the cost is time or money or people or resources, so often leaders feel they can’t do something because they are constrained by their limitations.

Craig Groeschel Encourages Leaders to Count the Cost

Groeschel encouraged the group of church and ministry leaders, business leaders and entrepreneurs and even prisoners, that their constraints could become the inspiration for innovation if they would view them differently and also give up on the idea of perfection. “The pursuit of excellence will motivate you, but the pursuit of perfection will eventually limit you.” He gave two principles to follow as he explained the point he was making. 

The first principle had to do with a cost-benefit analysis. Groeschel explained that leaders often have to evaluate if a particular project or investment is worth the cost to execute it. He gave an example of sermon preparation to explain. The leader of Life.Church explained that if he spends eight hours preparing for a sermon, he can get it to about 90 percent quality. If he spends an additional four hours on the sermon (12 total), he might get the sermon to 95 percent quality. However, if he spends 40 hours preparing a sermon, the quality would likely fall back down to 90 percent due to his overanalyzing his words. Now he must decide if it’s worth his time to invest an extra four hours in a sermon to get it to 95 percent quality or if 90 percent is sufficient. 

Bend the Curve

Church leaders make decisions like this every week, Groeschel explains. A good leader will make those cost-benefit analysis decisions and invest time, people, resources, money, etc. on things that will give the greatest return. 

However, an even better leader will figure out ways to “bend the curve” so to speak. Groeschel drew an x/y axis graph on which he designated the x axis as “cost” and the y axis as “quality”. Most cost-benefit decisions (like the sermon prep example) will elicit a protracted bell curve. However, sometimes leaders innovate and they are able to move the curve back in the direction of the y axis (thereby spending less and gaining more). 

Groeschel gave an example from Life.Church to articulate this point. When the church was young and didn’t have nearly as many locations or members as it does now, Groeschel and his wife, Amy, were expecting their fourth child. Their son Sam was born between the Saturday evening service and Sunday morning service and Groeschel, who had just preached at the Saturday evening service, realized he couldn’t be at the church to preach on Sunday. Someone had the incredibly innovative idea to show a video of Groeschel preaching the Saturday service on Sunday. While this may sound like an incredibly easy and obvious solution to us now, at the time, Groeschel didn’t know any church that was doing this. 

This solution didn’t cost anything and produced a high-quality return. The church had essentially “bent the curve” on their graph. 

Of course, Groeschel used the opportunity to point to Scripture with this principle. Saying that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, he said he honestly believes that not only does God guide by what he provides, he also guides by what he withholds. Think of the beggar who solicited Peter for money in Acts chapter 3, Groeschel says. The beggar, who was “lame from birth”, asked Peter for money, but Peter didn’t have any. Instead, Peter offered what he was able to offer, which was prayer and faith that God could heal the man. So instead of getting a little money that would only benefit him for a short while, the beggar received a healed body that would benefit him for the rest of his life. Not to mention the impact the miracle had on the beggar’s faith in God, which most likely benefited him into eternity as well. 

Burn the Ships

The second principle Groeschel shared was that leaders need to have a “burn the ships” mentality when it comes to whatever they’ve committed themselves. The metaphor comes from history, when Cortez and his men landed in Veracruz, Mexico after a long and arduous journey from Spain. The crew was exhausted and wanted to return home. Cortez took an audacious step and burned the crew’s ships, thus taking the option of return off the table. 

In a similar manner, church leaders need to identify the things God has called them to and commit to fulfilling them. For example, when Life.Church started doing church online, which at the time was another innovative idea on par with broadcasting Groeschel’s sermons at a later service, no one was thinking about the idea. This also meant they weren’t searching for church online on Google. The staff at Life.Church realized the money they were spending on Google adwords to advertise their online church weren’t producing the results they were looking for. Determined to make a new idea that no one knew they were looking for yet work, the staff asked themselves what do people search for online? One brave intern said “sex online”. Sure enough, when they changed their Google adwords campaign from church online to sex online, they got a lot more clicks. 

Had they not been committed to the idea that church online would appeal to a lot of searching people, though, they might have given up on the idea of building that part of their ministry. 

In his quintessential style, Groeschel spoke like a motivational speaker and brought a lot of energy to the conference. Almost barking at the crowd, he said “Don’t tell me you can’t do it.” For church leaders who are often working with limited budgets, staff, and time, perhaps this is just the message some of them needed to hear.

For more content on the 2019 Global Leadership Summit, please see:

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