5 Lessons for Church Planters From Successful Startups
Many of us with long commutes fill our drives to and from work with podcasts. One of the more popular is How I Built This with Guy Raz, a podcast on which entrepreneurs tell their stories of starting, failing, and growing their businesses. Many of their stories share similar themes of resilience, innovation, and agility that contribute to the eventual success of their companies or ideas.
There are many parallels between church planting and tech startups. Of course, the ultimate purpose will be different, but church planters can learn a lot from the successes and failures of business leaders, especially as they are getting their plant off the ground. If you’re a church planter who is currently growing your ministry, utilize these five lessons to expand your reach in the Kingdom.
1. Start With a Vision
There is no shortage of talented coders in Silicon Valley. Tech startups have to recruit talent to their teams by clearly differentiating themselves and articulating the company’s vision. The same applies for other startups.
Sound familiar? Church planters should have a vision of what they aim to achieve within their new church community. Speaker and New York Times bestseller, Simon Sinek, asserts, “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”
Why does your church exist? What can this new church accomplish that others haven’t? Why should people want to join? Once you’ve determined the answers to these questions, you’ll be able to inspire and attract others with a compelling vision.
2. Hustle Through the Beginning
The early stages of a startup often involve 12-hour days and 7-day work weeks. There is often complete devotion to the company’s product and mission – almost to an obsessive degree. On How I Built This, it’s common to hear about entrepreneurs quitting their jobs to start companies. It’s this determination, hustle, and absolute commitment that is critical in the early life of a startup or church plant.
President Calvin Coolidge wrote, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
It takes grit and complete commitment to drive an idea forward, especially at the start when everything is new and fragile.
Jeff Bigelow, one of our strategic partners and founder of Rolling Hills Christian Church, went door to door in his community to let the people know about his new church. I’m sure he wore through some tennis shoes, hustling his way around town. We of the faith know that Sabbath rest is not only needed, it is commanded. But somehow, the work to get things off the ground needs to get done.
3. Raise Support
Entrepreneurs are often drawn to Silicon Valley because they can get connected to investors who can finance their ideas and help bring them to life. Venture capitalists and angel investors have full wallets, ready to support a compelling vision at a young company.
Church planters typically don’t have funds on the same scale, but it is important for church planters to look for donors who buy into the church's vision and can provide some financial stability for the ministry to take root. Writer and theologian, Henri J.M. Nouwen, in A Spirituality of Fundraising, writes, “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission. When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, 'Please, could you help us out because lately it's been hard.' Rather, we are declaring, 'We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you - your energy, your prayers, and your money - in this work to which God has called us.’”
People want to support a cause that they believe in; sometimes, they just need to be asked.
4. Think About the Individual First
When creating a user experience (known as “UX” in the tech world), app designers have to first think of the individual’s experience. What does the average person see? What do they go to first? What is important for them? Church Planters should ask those same questions. From parking lot to ‘pew,’ each step should be considered. Try to avoid thinking about the crowd. Think about one person. Create a persona for your average churchgoer: What is his or her age? Background? Interests? What would give them a 5-star experience? Aim to meet the needs of the average churchgoer's experience first, then build from there.
5. Think About Everyone Next
If a vision is well-executed, people are going to want to join in when they see it coming to life. Companies that are successful at attracting and retaining individuals at the beginning have the task of scaling up to allow everyone that same (or similar) experience. After you’ve developed a 5-star experience for one person at your church plant, how does that scale? What can you keep doing over and over to ensure a consistently excellent experience? The philosopher Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Identify the tasks that delight your audience and consistently do them.
Church planters can stand to learn a lot from the successes and failures of business leaders and startups, especially as they are getting their plant off the ground.Gather individual feedback from kids, young parents, single adults, high school students, senior adults, those of different socio-economic backgrounds, those with disabilities, and so on. Keep asking so you can identify the specific things you are doing well. From there, the task is simple: keeping doing them.
What lessons have you learned when getting your church plant off the ground? Are there other parallels between successful startups and church plants?