The Sigmoid Curveball

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest player in NBA history. His top accomplishments include: Rookie of the Year; Five-time NBA MVP; Six-time NBA champion; Six-time NBA Finals MVP; Ten-time All-NBA First Team; Nine time NBA All-Defensive First Team; Defensive Player of the Year; 14-time NBA All-Star; Three-time NBA All-Star MVP; 50th Anniversary All-Time Team and Ten scoring titles. When he retired from basketball, Jordan decided to chase his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. He had the athleticism, intelligence, and passion – but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t hit a curveball.

In 1995, organizational management guru, Charles Handy theorized that organizations should start reinventing themselves before they reach their peak. Most organizations only think about trying something new when they’ve hit the bottom and run out of ideas. According to Handy, the best time to start something new is while you are still successful. When things are going well, you have the energy, resources and creativity to come up with new ideas.

Handy’s Sigmoid Curve, or S-shaped curve shows that new initiatives have a first phase of experimentation and learning which is followed by a time of growth and development. Unfortunately, every new idea peaks, plateaus, and then curves downward. To keep on growing, the successful organization must keep developing new initiatives. The key is starting a new curve at Point A before you need to change. Most ministries do not change until Point B which is often too late. When your ministry is declining, it’s hard to think bold, new thoughts, because your only focus is survival.

Michael Jordan chose to change games, but sometimes ministries face changes beyond their control. One minute you are performing at the top of your game and everything seems like a slam dunk, but the next minute you are staring at a curveball you can’t hit. Some ministries are nimble and can flex to respond to a changing environment. Others can’t or won’t adjust to the changes, and struggle to survive.

As Israel entered the Promised Land, the Lord instructed Joshua to follow, “because you have never been this way before” (Josh. 3:4). One of the most dangerous moments for an organization is when they begin to lean on their own understanding (Prov. 3:5). Successful strategic planning is less about what you and your board thinks you should do and more about listening for what God wants you to do. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isa. 30:21).

Is God calling your ministry to leave what you do well and try something new to respond to the needs of today’s generation? If so, start your strategic thinking now while things are going well. Don’t wait until your ministry starts to decline and forces you to make changes you may not want to make. Stay ahead of the curve. If God is asking you to reinvent your ministry, he will give you the wisdom to navigate the change.

Handy, C. (1995). The Empty Raincoat: Making Sense of the Future. Australia: Random House.

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