You know that great idea you have for a church? It’s probably not so great…

…but it’s okay. There’s a way around that.

Last fall, I read a great book on startups called The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. I know, I know – you have problems with the mash up of business talk and church talk. I do, too. The great thing is that this book hates “business talk” as well.

Everything Reis writes is based on the idea that traditional business practices are good for traditional businesses, but that start ups are completely different beasts. Much of what he offers is golden, but here is the most golden thing:

The #1 job of a startup is to learn.

Here’s what Reis has to say on

Too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer. When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When customers ultimately communicate, through their indifference, that they don’t care about the idea, the startup fails.

I think this has HUGE implications for starting new churches because it is the difference between emphasizing the product and the people.

About a year and a half into my ministry at the church I was serving, I tried to reframe the way our congregation did missions work. Influenced by my time at Covenant Community Church in Louisville and the work of The Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, I was convinced that the best way to help persons engage in service to the world was to help them arrange themselves in to smaller “intentional communities.”

To that end, I embarked on a months long planning and implementation process to help persons discern their gifts and the needs of the world, to train them to lead communities, etc. When all was said and done no one took advantage of the training I had given them by starting a community.

The hard lesson I learned was that the people I was serving wanted to serve God’s world, but they didn’t want to do it through these intentional communities.

The Lean Startup method suggests that every entrepreneur begin with a “minimum viable product” (MVP). The MVP is a bare bones, rudimentary version of the product that allows that startup to learn whether they have a sustainable model on their hands. By placing the MVP into the hands of a continuous series of customers, they will learn what does and does not work or whether they are even in the right market sector at all.

As I wrote in Open Source Church, I happen to think that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the point of the church is to actualize freedom. Given this, what is the church version of the MVP?

3 thoughts on “You know that great idea you have for a church? It’s probably not so great…”

  1. At the risk of oversimplifying, I think the MVP is the Gospel, faithfully transmitted and enculturated as best we can. It all flows from there.

  2. We hear a lot of stories about pastors who entered communities (existing ones) with an idea for a mission. But as an Interim I had the chance to enter communities looking for their God-given strengths, holding up a mirror to those strengths so the people could see what they might be able to do on God’s behalf. For me the MVP is the Great Commandment and Matthew 25:31-46 as a particular expression of it, either and both of which can be lived out in innumerable ways.

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