Thursday, August 2, 2007

Broken Windows

In Michael Levine's newest book, Broken Windows Broken Business, he shares how little things can turn into big problems and how the smallest remedies can actually reap the biggest rewards. His target audience is the business world. But the application to the church and to Trinity is impossible to miss.

It seemed to begin in the March 1982, issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine, criminologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling put forth a new theory called the "broken windows" theory. Basically, they said if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, it won't be long before all the rest of the windows in that building are broken. Why? Because the message being sent is that the owner really doesn't care if that window is broken. Left unrepaired, that broken window gives the impression the surrounding community doesn't care either. So, do whatever you want because no one is watching and no one cares. Michael Levine said, "Wilson and Kelling suggested that a 'broken window' - any small indication that something is amiss and not being repaired - can lead to much larger problems.

"The "broken windows" theory gained international attention when Rudolph Giuliani decided to implement it in New York City in 1994. The new mayor announced his intention to focus on the "broken windows" to reduce the outrageous crime rate in the "city that never sleeps." His focus began with fare jumpers at subway stations and removing graffiti from subway cars. He removed squeegee people off street corners, and hookers and pimps out of Times Square to make Manhattan more "family-friendly."Although Giuliani and his new police commissioner, William Bratton, were ridiculed and criticized for focusing on the "little things," the result was the number of murders, assaults, robberies and all other violent crimes went down dramatically.

New York City became a safer and cleaner city and has remained that way. It all started by removing graffiti from subway cars.The "broken windows" theory works with businesses and churches, too. Michael Levine says, "If the restroom at the local Burger King is out of toilet paper, it suggests that management isn't paying attention to the needs of its clientele." Small things make a big difference. Businesses who ignore the small things wind up with big problems.McDonald's has struggled in recent years losing their previous position of leading the fast food industry.

A University of Michigan study found the top five complaints by McDonald's customers were: rude employees, not having Happy Meal toys, slow service, missing items or receiving the wrong order, and unclean restaurants. All small things.Kmart is another big business that didn't pay attention to the small things. Kmart opened its first store in 1962, the same year Sam Walton opened the first Wal-Mart. Today, Kmart is emerging from bankruptcy with help from Sears, while Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer. What brought the corporate giant down was really small things - like not listening to their customers.

Broken windows. Christians inside can't ignore the broken windows and stay "in business." We have to consider how everything seems to the people and the community we serve. We have to care about what really is. But we also have to concern ourselves with the way things appear to be. We have to constantly look for broken windows.

Great businesses and great churches work hard to prevent them. How? By making small things a big deal. Like making sure our campus and facilities are kept in first-class condition at all times. Picking up after ourselves to maintain a beautiful building and clean classrooms. Taking personal responsibly for the things the Lord has entrusted us with relationships, talents... Making sure all our people, teachers, administration, and especailly leaders have the best attitudes at all times, treating each person as if they are the only one who came to church. (By the way, Levine says the worst broken windows may be people.)

Excellence can't just be in a mission statement on the wall somewhere. It has to be the heartbeat and driving force behind all programs, printed materials, musical productions, website content, church services, teaching, ministries, you name it.Because, if we don't make excellence the standard and fix the broken windows, it won't be long before they're all broken."Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." (Colossians 3:23)
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