What Business is Learning from the Church: A Review of “Brains On Fire” by Phillips, Church, Cordell, and Jones

“It comes down to trust. And people don’t trust your company; people trust people. People they know. People whose opinions and recommendations they seek out and have faith in” (xiv). So write the authors of Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements. Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and Spike Jones believe that business can grow and succeed when they stop focusing on technology, products, and branding and start focusing on people. Now, I am not in business. I don’t run a company, make a product, or own a brand. I am a pastor, and that’s why I think this book appealed so much to me. It’s a book about people. It’s a book about building community. I don’t know if Brains on Fire will help the business world, but it may actually help the church by getting them to stop copying the business world and start being who they are supposed to be.

For years pastors have been told that they need to learn all sorts of things from the business world. That the church is like a business and the pastor is like a CEO. I firmly believe there are some things we can learn from the business world. All truth is God’s truth, and some business models, ideas, and leadership strategies (among other things surely) have truth in them to be gleaned. But I also fear that for some time the church has been adopting the practices, the shape, and the outlook of the business world and as a result we have lost some of what it means to expressly be the church. It seems now, however, that some in the business world are starting to pick up on key elements of the church and are attempting to apply that to business. The team at Brains on Fire firmly believe that to make a business grow it means involving yourself in the life of your customers and employees. “Brains on Fire is not really a business book. It’s a love story, a story about being famous for the people you love” (ix). The book zeroes in on building a movement, not just building a business. The authors believe, and have seen first hand, that companies that shift their focus from their product to their customers’ passions are the companies that ignite a movement and make a difference.

Nothing in the book is really ground breaking information, and yet the authors have a done a great job of synthesizing this information and reminding readers of its relevance for their businesses, or their churches (in my case). You see as I think about how I want to help people commit to our fellowship and break the cycle of religious consumerism that we are all prone to I need to remember the keys that Brains on Fire spells out. The way to get people plugged in is not to tell them what’s wrong with other churches, not even to tell them what’s right about ours. It’s not about inviting them to a party and telling them how awesome we are and how we’ve got lots of benefits for them. It’s not about making better use of Facebook and Twitter, etc. It’s about igniting a movement that they can own and be part of.

The authors are very specific about this idea of igniting a movement. For them campaigns may drive up awareness of a company but they don’t generate the long-term growth that people often think they do. Instead, they promote movements. “A movement elevates and empowers people to unite a community around a common cause, passion, company, brand, or organization” (xv). They get even more specific when they write that “A sustainable movement happens when customers and employees share their passion for a business or cause and become a self-perpetuating force for excitement, ideas, communication, and growth.” As I’ve reflected on this book one thing I’ve thought about is how often pastors and leadership teams stand up on the platform and encourage and promote commitment to the fellowship…and how little of a difference that makes week after week. What Brains on Fire highlighted for me was the need to develop more lay leaders who will be passionate fans of our community. Those who will encourage commitment without being told, without an agenda, but because they truly believe in the community. The authors write:

Your ultimate goal should be to ignite something so powerful that if your marketing and PR departments or, God forbid, even your entire company got hit by a bus, your fans would pick up the banner and march forward with it. (xv)

The bulk of the book, then, is spent articulating how that happens. How can you ignite this kind of movement? They stress some actions that are perhaps unusual for contemporary business models, but things that should fit naturally into our church cultures.

The authors talk about having real conversations with customers and employees, specifically they stress listening. They urge readers to make a barrier to interest that requires real commitment on the part of the participants. They stress the importance of giving ownership to others. What strikes me about many, if not all, of these keys is that they reflect what the church should be doing. We are not a professional-run culture. We are all servants. Yet we have so often adopted the practices and beliefs of the business world, and in the process lost what it meant to be the church. But here is a business book that is point us and others back to a more Biblical mindset. Genuine growth is all about people! It’s a good reminder of what ministry should focus on.

I am not a business guy…but Brains on Fire isn’t a business book. It’s a people book! I highly recommend it.


  1. I love your perspective and unique point of view. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers, Robbin


  1. […] 4) Brains on Fire by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and Spike Jones […]

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