Question Zero: Start With Why

Simon Sinek’s great book Start With Why shows how superior it is to start with why, in so many ways. Sinek explains that most businesses start with what (What is that we do, or produce, or provide?) then ask how (How do we do what we do?) and then finally ask why (Why do we do what we do?), which is backwards. We must start with why. And he provides examples demonstrating the power of starting with why. Though their business examples, they all apply to church. Here are a few… 

Starting With Why Inspires 

Martin Luther King told the world, “I have a dream.” He did not say, “I have a plan.” Dr. King, like many others, knew what had to change, and he had ideas on how to do it, but what set him apart and allowed him to motivate people is that he had clarity on and preached why the world had to change. It was the why that inspired people and ultimately changed the world.

What and how doesn’t inspire. It’s important, it’s necessary, but no one falls asleep at night dreaming about what. No one gives up his life for how. It’s why that drives people. This is part of the genius of Jesus giving us a mission, but not so much the methodology to accomplish the mission. There is a Father who cares so intimately about you he has the hairs on your head numbered. He is a Father who waits at home while you are off in a distant country. I have come to return his lost children to him. You must tell the world this good news.

Starting with why inspires. Sinek points out that it inspires customer loyalty using Southwest, the one airline that starts with why, as an example. Southwest’s “why” is that they are about freedom. They do what they do to make flying affordable for ordinary, everyday people. They’re the William Wallace of airlines; giving freedom to people to fly who normally couldn’t afford to fly. And starting with why has inspired customer loyalty. In fact, did you know that after 9/11, when Americans stopped flying and airlines were hurting, people started sending checks to Southwest? Unsolicited, people started sending checks to Southwest with notes like, “I know how tough things must be right now, hope this helps.” That’s crazy! But it happened, because Southwest starts with why.

If you started with why, how might it inspire your staff? The people who attend your church? The people in your community who don’t attend yet? 

Starting With Why Increases Sales 

Sidek gives the example of Apple, which may be the best example of a company who starts with why. He points out that while other computer companies sell products with features, Apple sells their why, who they are, their culture. Apple’s why is that they challenge the status quo. They rebel against typical thinking. (Think of Apple’s iconic “1984” commercial. Or think of the “Hello, I’m a Mac” commercials.) Apple’s products and their features are just the tangible proof of their why. Apple realizes the truth that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. If you start with why, it increases sales.

We’re obviously not in the sales business, but this principle still translates. More people will be interested in and buy into what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, if you start with why. 

Starting With Why Allows Adaptability 

Did you know that after Southwest became popular with their low cost, low frills flights, both United and Delta tried to copy them? They failed. They failed because they didn’t have the same why. They copied the what and the how, but not the why. And because they didn’t start with why, they weren’t adaptable.

We see this all over.  Why didn’t Blockbuster put Red Boxes all over town with movies for $1?  Because they started with what – we rent movies out of stores – not why. If they had started with why – we exist to rent movies – they would have become Red Box before Red Box was Red Box. But they didn’t, because they started with what. And why didn’t Barnes & Noble become the place to buy books online? Because they started with what – we sell books out of stores – not why. If they had started with why – we exist to sell books – they would have been Amazon before Amazon was Amazon. But they didn’t, because they started with what.

On the other hand, think about Apple.  Apple had no problem jumping into the music distribution business, and into the cell phone business.  Why?  Because they started with why– “We challenge the status quo. We rebel against typical thinking.” And then came how – “We challenge the status quo by making beautifully designed, easy to use products.” And so it was no problem to adapt the what to music distribution or cell phones. If they had started with what – we sell computers – they would have failed.  But they were able to adapt and be successful, because they started with why.

This is obviously one of the biggest problems with churches. Most churches can’t adapt and it’s because they start with what, and how, instead of why. If you start with, “We need to seek and save the lost,” then you can ask, “Okay, so how do we do it?”  But if you start with, “Church a piano on one side, organ on the other, singing hymns to God, and exegetical preaching through books of the Bible” you can’tadapt.  You’ll always do it that way, even if that way doesn’t work to seek and save the lost anymore. Or if you start with, “Church is rocking worship music and inductive story-based preaching and small groups” or “Church is missional communities” you can’t adapt. You’ll always do it that way, even if that way doesn’t work in a couple decades, so you won’t be effective in seeking and saving the lost anymore. But when you start with why, it allows you to adapt. 

*** To learn more about understanding your WHY and getting true clarity on your mission, check out Auxano and all the great resources in the Auxano Vision Room.