My Church is Failing, and Yours Can Too
A couple months ago my church started failing. Our finances are up, attendance is growing over the summer, we haven’t had any issues with leadership and public relations concerns, but a few months ago, we started realizing that if we’re going to continue to grow as a church and impact our community, we need to start taking risks, which means we open the door to potential failure… and it has been amazing…
Our church has adopted a culture that embraces failure as necessary to grow. After hearing Craig Groeschel speak at a conference, we’ve adopted a saying:
Failure isn’t an option. It’s a necessity.
Playing it safe isn’t going to work in our culture any more. Turning on the lights and unlocking the doors may have worked for churches in the past to get people to come in, but now more than ever, we need to find ways to engage the community, push the limits of our presentation and find new ways to take Jesus to people, instead of waiting for people to come and ask us for Jesus. All this means there are things we will try that won’t work, or will create a different kind of response than we were anticipating – we call that failure.
We used to have a fear of failure. We were afraid of the consequences of trying something that didn’t work, and what people would think of us and how that would disappoint our members who put their trust in us. If we did risk something, we wouldn’t set a clear goal, so that we could take whatever results we got and say “That was pretty good.” We now realize that “playing it safe” is the way we were failing to reach our potential.
Pushing back against that fear and taking a risk opens the door to create something that is successful and an opportunity to learn and improve for next time. We also found that people who are bought into the culture of who we are as a church are way more risk tolerant than we gave them credit for.
What is failure?
We risk something whole-heartedly that we thought could work, it didn’t work the way we wanted it to, and we’ll discover what worked and what didn’t, then we’ll try again.
We tried an event asking people to sign up for our volunteer teams and we had a goal to get 50 new sign ups. We only got 30 people to sign up. That’s a failure. BUT we did get 30 people to sign up, so while we failed to hit out goal, it was a success for each of those 30 people who will now get connected and involved. It allows us to celebrate the 30 people who signed up, and allows us to evaluate our goal and why we didn’t hit it.
Our old approach may have been “Unless we’re sure we can get 50 people to sign up, let’s not put in the effort.”
We then talk to the 30 people who did sign up, ask them why they chose to respond and use that information the next time we do a team push. We could also talk to people we know aren’t serving on a team and ask them why they chose not to respond. Then, we try again.
Another example is that we got some new stage lights in our auditorium. During worship, I hit a wrong button and our lights all went into random mode – random colors, movements, shapes and strobe patterns. It only lasted about 5 seconds, but enough that it was noticeable. In the past, I probably would have heard “Let’s just leave the lights on 1 setting for all of worship from now on.” Instead, my Pastor came to me after service and said “Did you see what I saw? Do you know what caused it? Have you figured out how to avoid that next time?” and all my answer had to be was “Yes, it’s taken care of.” or “No, but I will find out.”
Last example: We had someone on our media team who has experience on camera (he’s a camera operator in the field for a local news station) but had never run a boom camera before. Someone was sick so I took a (calculated) risk and let him step in. He got shots and angles that I’ve never seen in our auditorium. After service, our broadcast director couldn’t stop talk about his camera work. He now trains anyone on our team who wants to learn to run the boom camera.
What failure isn’t:
- Give a half-hearted effort because it’s ‘alright to fail’
- An opportunity to crush someone who didn’t come through
- The last chance someone will get to try
- An opportunity to give up or pass the responsibility into someone else for next time
- A way to justify “I told you so” or “I knew that wasn’t going to work”
- An opportunity to single someone out: We succeed or fail as a team.
The path to turning failure into success:
- Try something and have an end goal in mind. Without an end goal (like the example above of 50 registrations) then you won’t have a way to measure success. We used to launch something without a goal in mind, then when the event was over we would say “30 registrations is pretty good! Let’s consider that a win.” because we didn’t want to say we failed, and it actually closed the door on taking time to discover how we could improve next time.
- What can we do to try to hit that goal?
- Did we hit that goal? If not, use the word “Failure”. It opens the door to say “We need to try something different next time.” If you hit the goal, consider it a success, then ask “Did we aim high enough, or could we aim higher next time.”
- Celebrate that we tried. Whether a success or a failure, as a team, we celebrate that someone took a risk.
- Get information to succeed stronger next time.
- Plan next time now. Even if your event won’t happen again until next month or next year, plan now and leave yourself notes about what you can do differently next time.
- Execute again and compare results.
This is the pattern from creating a volunteer team registration event, or trying our some new lights in worship to handing over our boom camera to someone who’s never used one before. Whether well planned, or in the moment, this is what the process looks like.
What could you risk this week?
- Layout a video project for a volunteer and ask them when they can have it done, then put it on the schedule for the following Sunday’s service.
- Ask for crazy ideas from a group of people on a $1000 outreach idea and commit before hand to execute at least one of them.
- Give someone a chance to participate on stage in service that you haven’t before
- Hand over your Instagram account to a 10 year old for the week
- Try a lighting change during worship / Try no lighting changes during worship
- Run a Facebook ad
- Change your service order
- Let someone volunteer in an area they haven’t been in before
- Trust someone on your team to take control that you’re not sure is ready yet
- Let someone on your team run your meeting while you’re away
Find an opportunity. Take a risk. Embrace the results… Failure isn’t an option. It’s a necessity.