3 Things The Church Can Learn From Nick Saban And Alabama Football”

Jul 06, 2021

 Let’s establish something from the outset. I am Not an Alabama football fan. I live in Alabama, but the only Alabama team I support outside of Oakwood University is Alabama A&M University. And yes, we do play football at Oakwood….well, it’s intramural football, but who asked you.

I’m not a fan of Alabama football, but I am a fan of leadership excellence. And for that reason, I do have a deep respect for the Alabama program. And it occurred to me that the church could learn a lot from coach Nick Saban and Alabama. Let’s look at a few things we can learn from this championship program.

Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership

Alabama football had fallen on hard times following the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant.

  • From 1997 to 2006 Alabama had more losing seasons than 10-win seasons.
  • Alabama didn’t have a single first round draft pick from 2001 to 2008.
  • The program was embarrassed by a recruiting scandal and severely sanctioned by the NCAA.
  • The season before Saban arrived the Tides record was 4 wins and 7 losses.

But what a difference the right “leader” makes.

  • 13 straight years of being ranked Number 1 at some point in the season.
  • 33 NFL first round draft picks.
  • 3 Heisman Trophy Winners
  • 6 National Championships.

That is nothing short of amazing. I think collaborative, servant leadership is the most effective leadership style for the local church. But that does not take away from the fact that without gifted leadership at the top, most churches, businesses, and organizations won’t reach their potential. And in the local church often the problem is not bad leadership but a bad pastor/church match. Either way leadership is critical.

Real Success Demands That You Invest

Nick Saban is the highest paid college coach in America at 9.3 million dollars a season! It’s a staggering amount by any standard. But what is even more staggering is what has happened at the University of Alabama since Saban arrived:

  • Student enrollment has increased by 58%.
  • Alabama is the second fastest growing university in the nation over the last 10 years.
  • Graduate school enrollment has exploded.
  • The law school is now one of the tops in the nation.
  • Alabama sports revenue has averaged well over 150 million dollars a year.

Good leadership doesn’t cost, it pays. Many churches do not understand the importance of investing in their pastor, personnel, and facilities. Many of our churches are led by board members who are liberal at home but cheap at church. They will argue passionately about the church “wasting money” on items that cost less than their monthly cell phone or cable bills. I’ve seen it. And the irony is often the churches that have the most, invest the least.

And pastors don’t get a pass here either. I am consistently amazed at how little pastors invest in themselves. Continuing education stops for most pastors when they leave the seminary. Self-development, regardless of what the local conference provides, is absolutely essential for effective leadership.

Embrace the Now!

Saban’s favorite acronym is WIN: What’s important now? “I’m not naïve enough to think that winning isn’t important, “ says Saban, “ but what this game made me realize is how much better it is for people not to worry about the opposition but to focus on executing and know if they do their job correctly they’re going to be successful, rather than thinking the other guy’s going to determine the outcome.” He goes on to say, “ We don’t’ talk about winning, we talk about process.”

 Process. What are you doing now? The success of the Alabama program is tied to the priority they place on doing the right things, the small things, over and over again. They don’t worry about opposition, they worry about themselves. Author Molly Fletcher notes that Saban’s focus on the NOW, protects his team from the disappointments of the past and the pressures of the future. It keeps them focused. Good advice for anyone.

 Alabama has learned that if you prioritize input, it will determine your outcome. It’s a great success metric. Churches and pastors can learn from that. Rather than obsessing over how many you’d like to baptize, double the number of bible studies the church conducts. Rather than obsessing over how many people showed up at church or an event, double the number of people who were literally invited to come. Still measuring but measuring what you can actually control.

So, there it is. You can learn a lot from a school that you don’t like…. or that I don’t like. What do you think?

And don’t forget to register for “ The Shift! A Church Leadership Summit” on Sunday, January 31st.