Be An Upper Room

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson have written a book full of sharp, pointed, short, punchy, iconoclastic, snarky proverbs for businesses and entrepreneurs. I’d recommend that anyone starting or working in a church or a business read it. REWORK is just plain good.

Sometimes their counsel confirms things we’ve been doing by instinct in the context of our church plant and our small business, and sometimes it completely contradicts our practices and makes us reconsider our approach. One of the most comforting things I read in REWORK was the author-entrepreneurs’ counsel to embrace obscurity:

Use this time to make mistakes without the whole world hearing about them. Keep tweaking. Work out the kinks. Test random ideas. Try new things. No one knows you, so it’s no big deal if you mess up. Obscurity helps protect your ego and preserve your confidence.

The great thing about planting instead of launching is that the energy put into the beginnings of your church plant can be applied to ministering the gospel to the people who are in your life rather than choreographing an event for people you don’t even know. Further, you are freed from having to make a big, impressive splash, only to have the ongoing pressure of sustaining such a production week after week.

Many high-tech start-ups as well as established companies spend loads of time and money in research and development, painstakingly creating a product they believe will change everything. They also spend gobs of time pitching their idea to potential investors to fund such a long R&D process. The launch gets delayed and delayed—you’ve only got one shot at this, so you’d better do it right. And then it flops.

Smart entrepreneurs are learning the importance of a Minimum Viable Product. Make something quick and cheaply, put it out there, and see if anyone buys. Early adopters of exciting new technologies are very forgiving of bugs and glitches. They’ll pay anyway, and they’ll enthusiastically help you figure out how to make the product they’ve paid for better. You can push out a new, less-glitched iteration tomorrow. Forget R&D.

This process has been delightful to watch unfold in our church plant. Food, togetherness, old hymns with new tunes and folky instruments, a shared sense that we all need Jesus, and a collective desire to create an honest environment in which our friends can explore the gospel—-this was our ‘minimum viable product’.

So we got together and did it. We invited people we actually knew to come and experience it with us. We tweaked things as we went. It wasn’t too impressive. But the early adopters, my wife and I included, were in love. And we came back for more with an incredible willingness to throw our weight behind something we all believed in–and more and more deeply with each each subsequent klunky gathering.

If you start gathering around the things that you love, you’ll naturally invite people you think will be compelled by those same things. If you gather with 25 people and you print one of the pages of the bulletin upside-down, or burn the paninis, or your fiddle is out of tune, no big deal. You tweak the bulletin, calibrate the grill, and tune the fiddle for next time.

But if you build up to a LAUNCH and there’s a snow storm or the projector light bulb burns out or the preacher gets the flu, then all your postcards, all your flyers, all your advertisements, and all your energy were for naught. Further, your ‘brand name’ is sullied. Worse, the 100 people who came out for the big event leave with their inflated expectations unmet and with little reason to return the next week, let alone to invite their friends.

Be an upper room. Embrace the obscurity. If what you’re doing is as compelling as you think it is, others will trickle in, slowly but surely. As they do, they’ll help you work the kinks out. They’ll be contributing co-owners instead of critical consumers. And what will emerge is a community rather than a weekly event.


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