What is the “Why” Behind Your Church?

Years ago, Simon Sinek, a professor at Columbia, gave a TED Talk titled, “How Great Leaders Inspire People” that quickly drew acclaim for its insights.

In it, Sinek makes a convincing argument that great leaders in every field – whether business, government, education or religion — have a common characteristic.

They start with the question: “Why?”

Most people, says Sinek, know what they do. They also may be able to tell you how they do it. But the really inspiring leaders are compellingly clear about why they do what they do.

Sinek gives many examples of inspiring leaders. But certainly, one of the most familiar provided is that of Martin Luther King Jr.

At the time of King’s arrival, others in the civil rights movement knew what they did. Many could tell you how they did it.

But on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. inspired a nation by telling us why in his “I Have A Dream” speech.

Where Many Churches Go Wrong

Sinek’s invitation to start with the why is a powerful challenge to faith leaders today.

In this time when most church leaders are looking for new ways of being the church and holding church services, too many focus on the what or how.

  • What new program(s) should we try?
  • Should we add a contemporary service?
  • How should we use media for education?
  • How do we communicate with the congregation: email, website, newsletter?
  • How do we get more young families to attend our church?

But while the what and the how are important and necessary, they are not the first question to be answered.

The first question should always be: Why?

What Is Behind Your Church’s Priorities?

In the Congregation Assessment Tool, or CAT, leaders and participants of a faith community are asked to prioritize 17 options based on where they wish more emphasis would be placed within their church.

Interestingly, the two priorities that emerge first in approximately 95% of the churches that have used the CAT are the following:

  • Make necessary changes to attract families with children and youths to our church.
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to reach new people and incorporate them into the life of the church.

Obviously, these churches want to grow, but the question is, “Why?” Is it simply to help the institution survive? Is it because members are anxious about the future of the church?

Or are people being invited to become part of the community and experience vital discipleship?

Questions To Ask On This Journey

In other words, how do we answer: Why does this church exist?

Church leaders who seriously contemplate this question can open creative dialogue among their members that goes beyond a simple mission or vision statement.

These prompts, particularly when done individually and then discussed as a group, can help your church as it searches for its why.

  • Why does your church do what it does?
  • What is the purpose of this faith community?
  • Why does this church exist?

While answering this question may introduce period of reinvention – and anxiety – it can also provide an exciting future for a church.

After all, it is the answer to the why that can make our faith communities healthier and more vital!

Have questions about finding your why as a church? Contact us for next steps, training or other inquiries.

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