What PepsiCo's CEO Can Teach You About Discipleship

Let's talk numbers for a minute. 

I don't want to know how many people show up in gatherings or groups each week. I'm not asking about how many mission trips or Compassion kids your church sponsors.

I want to know how many people in your church are raving fans of what you do.

In a recent interview with Harvard Business Review, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi discussed the impact of innovation on her company. From that interview, I pulled six convictions that have the potential to dramatically improve the performance of your disciple-making efforts. And, yeah I know, it's Pepsi which is a communist drink down here in Georgia. But I have to confess that I will, on occasion, drink a Diet Mountain Dew (which apparently is destroying my soul with each sip). 

Discipleship is THE work of the church. So whether you are a lead pastor or a volunteer leader, pay attention to what Ms. Nooyi has to say.

1. Life Is Cluttered. You Have To Stand Out.

As CEO, I visit a market every week to see what we look like on the shelves. I always ask myself - not as a CEO but as a mom - "What products really speak to me?" The shelves just seem more and more cluttered, so I thought we had to rethink our innovation process and design experiences for our consumers.

People will not pay attention to what you are doing as a church unless you grab their attention. Distraction is true for people outside of the church and inside of the church. The church is no longer the place people naturally look for answers to life's big questions. And in a noisy and busy world, there simply isn't room for an institution that expects loyalty and participation because it has great products and services. 

You cannot disciple people if they can't see you on the shelf of life. From how you let people outside of your church know that you exist to persuading people inside of your church to invest time and energy into helping each other follow Jesus, you have to grab their attention.

2. People Should Love What You Do 

For me, a well-designed product is one you fall in love with. Or you hate. It may be polarizing, but it has to provoke a real reaction. 

If you are discipling children, they better leave telling their mom or dad that they had fun. If you are discipling students, you want to provoke love or hate. There is nothing that creates greater apathy than events and environments that are boring or simply don't matter.

Apathy shows up in adults, as well. The conversations should be significant, the teaching should be provocative, the work should matter. Show me the church whose people don't seem to care and I'll show you the church with a poorly designed plan for making disciples. 

3. Look At Everything Through The Eyes Of Your People

I don't know if consumers know what they want. But we can learn from them...we don't sell products based on the manufacturing we have, but on how our target consumers can fall in love with them.

The most consistent mistake that churches make in discipling people is that they do not design events and environments from the perspective of the people they want to help. We must pay attention to the experience of the people we serve - particularly the emotions they feel when they want to get involved.

A church leader does not decide the desired outcome of our work together in making disciples. The Scriptures give that to us in the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor. And a church leader does not unilaterally determine what the church does to lead people towards that outcome.

Wise leaders do not assume what people want. They ask them what they want, a task made complicated by the fact that no one is wired to clearly articulate what they want. Ask a group of people on vacation at the beach where they want to eat dinner and watch an hour go by without a decision.

Ask people what they want without ever asking them what they want. Here's how. First, ask people what they've hated about similar experiences in the past. I told my small group this summer that I was considering some changes for the fall and asked them to tell me what they didn't want us to do together. Half the group told me that they really didn't like it when small groups sing together. Guess what we're not doing when we get together this fall? 

Second, ask about what they've loved about similar experiences from the past. Ask people who are new to your church what they loved about their last church (if they have a background in church). Ask students about their favorite moment in school over the past year. 

Henry Ford said this about designing the Model T car: 'If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.' People cannot tell you what they want. But they can tell you what they love. So ask them. 

4. Pay Attention To Two Numbers

We have to do two things as a company: Keep our top line growing in the single digits, and grow our bottom line faster than the top. 

Two numbers matter in your disciple-making efforts: First, the percentage growth of people moving into leadership (volunteers, volunteer leaders (deacons), staff, board (elders). Your leadership pipeline should be growing. Second, the percentage growth of people in your disciple-making environments (weekend gatherings, groups, etc.).

5 Be Ready To Reinvent Yourself Every 3-5 Years

It's been a long time since you could talk about sustainable competitive advantage. The cycles are shortened. The rule used to be that you'd reinvent yourself once every seven to 10 years. Now it's every two to three years. There's constant reinvention: how you do business, how you deal with the customer.

Yeah, we really don't like all this business talk in the church. Sustainable competitive advantage. Reinventing ourselves. How we deal with 'customers.'

I totally get it. There is something distinct about the church that makes it different from PepsiCo or Pop's Barber Shop down on Main Street. But hear me out. The rate of change has increased exponentially in our culture because of the effect of technology on what we want to do and how we can get it done. 

So maybe we can agree upon this. The work of the church does not change - we make disciples. The Scriptures and the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) must be front and center in our efforts. But disciple-making is about people and how people learn and live changes consistently. So let's be willing to adapt how we pass along the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3...or just Jude 3. What's the rule on the address of a verse in a letter with only one chapter?). 

6. Culture Change Takes Time But Culture Must Change

We've given our people 24 to 36 months to adapt. I told everyone that if they don't change, I'd be happy to attend their retirement parties. 

Changing the culture of your disciple-making efforts requires four things: First, a leader who infuses innovation and design thinking into discipleship and influences every other part of the church to do the same. Second, the lead pastor must protect the effort because resistance to change is inevitable. Third, you need to show examples of what you want to do from other churches and marketplace entities. And, finally, you need some quick wins: projects that rapidly prove the value of design inside the church. That will give you a base to create this new culture.

And as Ms. Nooyi states above, give leaders who struggle to embrace this new direction 24-36 months to adjust. Sometimes they'll come around. And if they don't, you need someone else in their role.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

And if you liked it, use that menu at the bottom of the page to share this through social media or email. It would mean a lot to me. 

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