Leading Change
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Help Your Ministry Fight Wal-Mart Disease

Wal-Mart Disease

“It’s an obsession with sticking to the core business, and doing everything possible to defend & extend it — even when rates of return are unacceptable and there is a constant struggle to improve valuation.”–source

The chart above illustrates Wal-Mart Disease best–on the surface there are no glaring signs of trouble–it’s the lack of significant growth that foreshadows the upcoming challenges.

The article describes it another way:

Doing more of what it’s always done – hopefully a little better, faster and cheaper.”–source

If your ministry has experienced a plateau then there is an opportunity for innovation and change that can lead to significant growth. Micro-improvements that make your events, leaders, and volunteers a little bit better will never lead to the future that God has called you to.

Here’s what scary about Wal-Mart disease: the consumers (or target audience for ministries) still experience positive results. In Wal-Mart’s case it’s small savings on a variety of household items; in ministry it’s often the comfort of history or tradition and the ease of attending/participating in something known versus unknown. As years go by dollars become pennies and leaders scramble to refine execution to a level that promotes micro-management and ultra-conformity. This type of culture often drives entrepreneurial leaders with the capacity to lead change to the fringes or to other ministries where their gifts can flourish.

“The Disease is keeping Wal-Mart from doing what it must do if it really wants to succeed.  It has to change.  Wal-Mart leadership has to realize that what made Wal-Mart once great isn’t going to make it great in 2020.”–source

Some things your ministry can do to fight Wal-Mart Disease:

  • Empower leaders as soon as possible.
  • Spend a lot of time with your core group of leaders dreaming about and praying for the future.
  • Asking this question when planning anything: “How does this event provide a increase in leaders, volunteers, or resources?”
  • Centralizing communication channels to free up time to invest in the future.
  • Saying NO to lots of things that are a reaction to the present.

How do you fight Wal-Mart disease in your ministry?


  1. While I don’t appreciate you picking on our small local Northwest Arkansas business, this is great stuff – really you’re last few posts have all been great (as always. I just had a few stored up in my RSS and read them all at once).

    What do you mean – centralizing communication channels? What does that look like?

    I’m going to have my team read this as we think about our future. We’ve had a breakout year but I think the plateau is always just around the corner.

    • hilarious. the follow up of this should be ‘i wish i was the ceo of walmart and had walmart disease.’

      when i watch ministries expand or read about companies dealing w growth pains a common theme is redundant communication–often time each team/group etc has their own platform and preference for group communications (fb groups, email, etc).

      some of this is necessary, much of it i believe can be centralized–for instance one gmail account for the ministry where every doc is created or shared, so that new leaders or transitions will not affect the learning that has been accumulated in the previous generations.

      thanks for sharing this w your team. it’s encouraging.

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