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why start-ups fail

David Feinleib has started five companies and works as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.  His book, “Why Startups Fail: And How Yours Can Succeed”, offers good advice to anyone starting a business — or a new church.  He has thirteen principles; I’ll share just a few and direct my comments towards church planting.  (To read a good summary of all thirteen, click here).

There’s no place for your product.  On the one hand, there are few places in the United States that have too many churches.  We’ll agree to that.  But what if you’re answering questions no one (at least the non-believer) is asking?  What if your style of worship doesn’t fit your neighborhood?  Then … there’s no place for your product.

Your product stinks (OK, he said sucks).  This is not about performance or perfection; it is about doing the best you can with what you have.  In our media-driven age, video is judged by what they see online or on television.  People come to church expecting to be bored — don’t let your sermon justify that.  Churched people will tolerate a sub-par atmosphere much more than a non-churched person will.

You don’t have vision or chops.  Some churches know what they’re supposed to be doing (vision) but fail to actually do it (chops).  New churches that grow are ones that merge words and deeds.

You burn too much money on sales and marketing early on.  I found this one interesting, especially since most new churches launch with a direct mail campaign.  Typically a large direct mail campaign that consumes the total of their marketing budget.  Feinleib recommends spending part of that money to improve your product (worship, children’s ministry, etc).  And, it’s always good save money to advertising beyond the launch of your church.

You don’t know how to use others to build scale.  As a pastor, your job is to equip others to do ministry alongside you.  As long as the health and growth of the church depends on one person — or even two or three — it will be limited.  In a new church, the task of leadership is to train others as quickly as possible.

No one can understand what you’re saying.  Need I say more?

You make excuses.  Church planting is tough.  It’s not going to be easy.  Volunteers will flake out.  Here’s how Mark Driscoll describes a church planter:

“Now, in a normal church the pastor’s a really nice guy; does a lot of counseling and photocopies well and those kind of things. But to plant a church there’s no people to counsel, there’s no photocopier to use, so you gotta be a dude who can fight and preach and teach and lead and be courageous and get something done to build a church and to bring it forth out of nothing with God’ help.” (Church Planting in Corinth)

You lack focus.  You can’t do everything.  The temptation in starting new church, especially if you launched with a small team, is to cast a wide net in an attempt to catch more people.  That usually fails.  What is it that God has called you to do?  What are your unique strengths?  What can you do well?

There’s a lot of drama.  Drama usually indicates the absence of vision.  Without a rallying mission to draw them together, people will get cranky.

“This is the last money we’ll ever need”.  It may seem like a tremendous challenge just to get your launch funding in order.  Many pastors don’t like asking for money; get over it.  If you believe in what you’re doing, you will not hesitate to ask others to believe in it, too.  And that includes asking for money.