Transform Your Ministry with the Three Box Approach

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Note: This concept has tremendous application regardless of the ministry you lead.  Don’t be put off by what might seem to be a more corporate concept and strategy.  Take my word for it, if you’ll take a few minutes to grasp the idea you’ll never look at your ministry in the same way again.


In the 2013 Global Leadership Summit, Vijay Govindarajan* introduced what he refers to as the three box approach to manage organizational reinvention.  Now, you probably already understand the need for reinvention, so I won’t go into any real detail.  Suffice it to say, that if any of the following are true, you need to think about reinvention:

  • If your ministry impact is plateaued or in decline.
  • If your ministry impact is limited to a small percentage of the community in which you operate.
  • If there are ministry opportunities you are aware of but haven’t identified a way to capture.
  • If your budget only fuels yesterday’s winners.
  • Etc.

See where this goes?

When you begin to see the need for reinvention (or to be honest, whether you see it or not), here is a very basic overview:

The essence of the idea is that all activity in an organization fits in one of three boxes.  Keep in mind that activity means much more than the programs or ministries themselves.  Activity includes planning, preparation, execution and evaluation.

Here are the three boxes:

  • Box #1 is managing the present: You might think of these activities as intended to improve today’s current ministry winners.  They’re flourishing.  Everyone can see that good things are happening.  There is good reason to preserve these things along with the sense that it makes sense to invest energy in tweaking design for even greater impact.  The key word for this box preservation.
  • Box #2 is selectively forget the past: You might think of these activities as aimed at stopping underperforming ministries and outdated programs.  The key word for this box is destruction.
  • Box #3 is creating the future: You might think of these activities as those that prepare your ministry for the long term, the next phase or season.  The key word for this box is creation.  

According to Govindarajin, for organizations to endure, “they must get the forces of preservation (box 1), destruction (box 2), and creation (box 3) in the right balance.”  He goes on to write that while striking this balance is the leader’s most important task, most organizations “overwhelmingly favor box 1.”

How about your ministry?  Are you balancing the three boxes?  Or are almost all of your eggs in preserving the status quo?

Here’s your assignment:  I love this diagnostic exercise from The CEO’s Role in Business Model Reinvention.

  1. Write Box 1, Box 2 and Box 3 on individual post-its and use them as headings on a wall.
  2. Spend some time imagining ministry in 5, 10 or 20 years.  Incorporate as much of what you’re seeing in the changing culture, changing demographics, pace of life, economics, morality, etc.
  3. Now take individual post-its and write each of the important initiatives under way in your ministry.  Stick them on the wall under the appropriate heading (Box 1, Box 2 or Box 3) in light of the 5, 10, or 20 year horizon you’ve identified.

How’d you do?  Are you balancing the three boxes?  Or are you overweighted in preservation?

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

*Vijay Govindarajan is the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business and the founding director of the Center for Global Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.  He is also the author of a number of books including The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge and Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators: From Idea to Execution.

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