How to Destroy the Church Competition


Discover the importance of having a winning mindset in church leadership. Learn how to foster a competitive spirit, fight for faith, and cultivate a winning culture.

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Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 2:00 PM EST

“You Play to Win The Game!”

At times, coach press conferences become must-see-tv. One such moment happened on October 30, 2002. 

The New York football Jets were abysmal. At the press conference after another loss, Head Coach Herm Edwards took offense to a question he felt was, well, stupid. In his frustration, Coach Edwards launched into a rant that is still famous 20 years later. 

A reporter asked Edwards, “Do you have to talk to your team about not giving up on the season?” At the time, the Jets were 2 – 5. The feeling around the team was they were quitting. Coach wasn’t having any of it. His answer began more calmly but escalated into a legendary tirade.

The most famous and quoted line from Coach Edwards’s illustrious career is: 

You play to win the game. Hello? You don’t just play to play. You play to win the game!” 

If you’ve never seen the clip, go ahead and stop reading the post and watch it here.

Are You In It to Win It?

Here’s my question for you: Are you playing church to win? 

I know it’s not a game, so this may not be the best way to pose the question. But let’s get honest for a moment:

Are you playing church or trying to win something, like souls and the Kingdom of God? 

I’m a competitor by nature. I was born to fight and try to win. At everything. 

I tend to bring my competitive spirit to everything I do – including the church. Throughout my church leadership season, I wanted our church to win big time! It’s possible that my competitive nature came across more strongly than was necessary in my earlier days of church leadership. Actually, I’m confident that was the case. However, I believed fighting for what matters most matters. 

I still believe that. I bet you do, too, even if you feel exhausted from the ongoing fight. 

Fighting Against The Enemy

Let’s be clear: We don’t fight against other churches as a church. Other churches are not the enemy. They are teammates. But you know that already. 

So what is the enemy? 

Clearly, there is one. And the enemy is using everything and everyone in the world to fight against the church, faith, and the Kingdom of God. We are in a fight, and there is a winner and loser in fights. When faith grows in any individual in our congregation or community, we win. When faith stagnates or retreats, we lose, and the enemy wins. 

Growing faith is what we are fighting for. 

Which means we are fighting against apathy. Against irrelevance. Against judgmental attitudes, a lack of forgiveness, and revenge. We’re fighting to remain engaged in the ministry of reconciliation. We’re fighting against a culture that is actively moving away from the things of Jesus. Things like individualism. 

We are in the ring. We’re in a fight. If this is true, church leadership is not and cannot be passive. Pastoring is active because fighting is active. 

Jesus seemed to believe this, too. As he sent his Disciples out, he reminded them of the danger, saying: 

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

– Matthew 10:16-20 (NIV)

There are two points (at least) we should take from Jesus’ words: 

  1. Leading and participating in the Kingdom of God is not easy. It’s a fight that requires a fighting mentality. 
  2. He has promised to be with us. Always. 

Don’t read this passage and passively say, “God’s got this.” We must remember that while God is with us, he’s also sending us to fight against the wolves. We need to be strategic and intentional. We need a game plan and a desire to fight. 

We need to play to win the game! 

A Church that’s Winning: Auburn Community Church (ACC)

A competitive spirit was one element I couldn’t help but notice when I visited ACC. Miles, the senior pastor, was fired up about church and the Auburn community. You could see it in his face, energy, and body language. You felt it in his message. Moreover, you could see it in every volunteer. And in the band. Literally everywhere. Miles’ spirit was pervasive and had infected everything and everyone at ACC.

As I said in the previous post, whether you see it as passion or enthusiasm, Miles’ energy and enthusiasm for Jesus is contagious. It felt like what they were doing at ACC matters. And they believe it matters. 

After the church service, I was ready to charge hell with a water pistol! 

Preparing for the Fight

Know it or not, like it or not, you’re in a fight. If you’re the leader of your church (or organization), you set the pace and tone for the battle. It’s up to you to lead the fight. 

The best fighters are prepared and trained for the work. Here’s a potential training guide for you and your team: 

1. The battle begins within.

God is with you. But that’s easy to forget in the middle of a fight. We must spend sufficient time with God through private disciplines as a reminder of his presence and power. 

The most challenging of our leadership battles exists within our hearts and soul. Our broken humanity, insecurities, and fears manifest in various ways that work against a fighting spirit. In a way, we can spend more time fighting against ourselves than the real enemy. 

If you want to take fighting seriously, spend adequate time preparing your heart and soul to step into the ring. 

2. Build a core team with diverse skills, abilities, and perspectives.

Great sports teams, military units, and church staffs are full of healthy diversity. 

The reason is simple. When you enter a fight, you’re always better prepared with more skills at your disposal. For example, a team with only smaller point guards doesn’t have a chance in basketball. The quarterback is probably the most crucial in football, but a team with only quarterbacks would be killed (quite literally). 

Diversity allows all skills to be represented, perspectives to be gained, and ideas to be surfaced. Diversity is a leadership necessity, not a luxury. If you have a large church, fill leadership tables with diversity. If you have a smaller church or team, find a way to bring in core volunteers to create a diverse group. This is too important to overlook. 

If you’re interested in learning more about decision diversity, check this out: You Can’t Win Without The Right Teammates (Just Ask Matthew Stafford).

3. Establish a winning culture.

What is culture? 

I’ll give you several links to other content on this topic in a second. But at a high level, Culture is not WHAT we do but HOW we do it. It’s the values, beliefs, and norms that drive our behaviors. 

My favorite definition of culture is what’s common to us that may be uncommon to others

Every organization has a unique culture, whether it’s defined or not. You can see this everywhere you go. Every business you visit. Every church you experience. 

Ideally, cultural values should create beliefs that drive behaviors – ideally. Unfortunately, this value to belief to behavior connection is often ignored or misunderstood. In reality, reinforced behaviors drive beliefs that establish values. When this process gets inverted, new, and often, unwanted values accidentally replace our aspirational values. 

If you’re interested in reading more about culture, check this out: How to Execute a Strategic Plan at Your Church – Values and Culture

At ACC, they clearly have a HOW informing the what and why. When you interacted with their staff or volunteers, they behaved similarly. They have diverse skills, perspectives, and experiences but are connected in chemistry and culture. For example, they all had a sense of customer service. They served with urgency and energy. They were excited. Everyone was excited. While I haven’t sat through an ACC staff meeting, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear them talk about values connecting these behaviors. 

If you want to fight well, having everyone fighting from the same cultural playbook is critical. Defining how you’ll play together ultimately determines if winning is even possible. If you don’t define your winning culture, each team member will create their own culture and approach. And you’ll lose. 

4. Define your strategy.

How people do their work is the culture. Our strategy is how we collectively plan and systematize from where we are to where we want to be. Strategy is your plan to accomplish your mission.

Every church has a “strategy” or model, even if undocumented. You’re working from a model, method, plan, or approach. If you don’t document it, you can’t replicate what works and fix what’s broken. 

I cannot encourage you enough to document your strategy. This should include your evangelism (outreach) and discipleship strategy, staffing strategy, children’s and student ministry strategy, financial strategy, engagement strategy, groups strategy, and care strategy. There’s more, but I assume you get the point. 

FYI: Strategy is my primary business. My company exists to add more intention to your mission. If that’s a space where you need help, let’s talk. 

5. Create your rally cry.

We talked all about rally cries in the previous post. I won’t reiterate it here. One reminder: Don’t believe having a mission and vision is enough. These statements are essential but insufficient for proper competition. 

6. Step into the ring every Sunday.

Every Sunday, somebody sits in your church or watches your service, giving God and the church one more chance. 

I don’t say this to be dramatic. I say it because it is true. How hard are you willing to fight each week to ensure every one of these people feels loved, inspired, and want to return? How hard will you fight to create and support the discipleship steps each person could make each week? 

There are several reasons our fighting is exhausting. One clear reason is the never-ending rhythm of church. We step in the ring every seven days (which feels like every four days). This rhythm takes a toll. If you want to fight each week, you’ve got to prepare for the marathon. 

The best way to do this is by knowing my personal replenishment cycles. Understanding how I best refuel helps me step into the ring each week with more energy and commitment to the fight. This is true for you, too. 

7. Get up and fight again. And again. 

It’s equally important to recognize we won’t win every single fight. God will win the war, but each battle has its unique challenges. Like a boxing match, we’re going to take some punches. Some, perhaps right in the mouth. How we respond is what matters. 

In my many years of fighting, I’ve been depressed, anxious, and exhausted. I’ve been yelled at, belittled, unnecessarily called out, and laughed at. I’ve made decisions that created frustration. I’ve been rude to people. I’ve been bothered at restaurants, vacations, and even at home. 

I haven’t won every fight. But I never lost because I wasn’t willing to fight. 

That’s the point. You will be knocked down from time to time. Get back up. Every time. There is too much at stake to remain down. As Miles and ACC would say: “Jesus Wins.” So let’s fight. 

You’re On The Winning Team, so Play Like It!

We all know God’s Kingdom will win. In the end, we have certainty. And we’ve been invited to participate in the game. My encouragement is for you to fight every week as if it matters. Like people matter. Like eternity matters. Like the fight is real, and it’s worth getting in the ring. 

Ding, ding, ding,